Thursday, April 11, 2024

Game 510: Dungeon Hack (1993)

You know this is a serious game because it has two ©s, two ®s, and a "TM."
Dungeon Hack
United States
DreamForge Entertainment (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1995 for PC-98
Date Started: 7 April 2024
Dungeon Hack is what I've been waiting for my whole life--a fun, replayable game of infinite variety. No more waiting for years for developers to release a new title. Just roll up a race/class/sex/alignment combination that you haven't tried before--there are 698 of them!--and a random dungeon that you haven't experienced before--there are over 4 billion of them!--then customize the dungeon to the challenge level that you want. Sure, there's no real story, but you have an imagination, don't you? Make up some narration as you go along. All you have to do is . . . 
Give me back the keyboard, you little delinquent. Sorry about that, everyone. Thirteen-year-old Chester briefly came forward and insisted on having his say. He and I have been arguing for days now. We've had debates before--usually resolved with a line or two in the "Summary and Rating"--but never before have our differences been so stark. Thirteen-year-old Chester (let's call him "Winnie," like one of his uncles did), who hasn't learned the value of time, whose days seem to stretch out endlessly instead of being calculated in hard, unforgiving hours, loves the idea of a "forever game." Winnie's already making plans to win it 698 times with one set of customizations, then turn around to do it again with another. He already has backstories in mind for half the characters. He'll somehow turn its repetitive, randomized corridors into a novel.
Dungeon Hack is much like Eye of the Beholder, but with a single character and, thus, most of the inventory options on the main screen.
Adult Chester has places to be. I don't have any idea what Red Crystal is, and I'm never going to find out if I waste time running around mazes for their own sake.
What's the difference between that and NetHack? This is "Winnie" again. I hated that nickname. That uncle ended up in prison, by the way.
Hoping for healing, my character tries a potion and instead gets confused.
That''s a better question than it seems. Until I started playing it, I thought that the word "Hack" in the game's name was a coincidence. Anything but. The game is a fusion of first-person Dungeons & Dragons games like Eye of the Beholder (1991) with roguelike elements, including potions and wands whose color and composition are randomized for each new game, random drawing of dungeon maps, and optional permadeath. Your quest, as in many roguelikes, is to find an orb. The executable to run the game is even titled HACK. 
And yet roguelikes are more than just randomization, permadeath, and potion lists that you have to re-learn. They're a full set of keyboard commands, for one thing, whereas Dungeon Hack is the second game in a row that a player has to approach with one hand on the numberpad and the other on the mouse, a contortion without an external numberpad. They're about complex inventory mechanics--or, at least, the Hack line is. I grant you that Rogue doesn't have that aspect, but it makes up for it by being short, which Dungeon Hack definitely is not. In fact, in offering the simplicity of Rogue with the length of some of its descendants, Dungeon Hack resembles Moria or Angband more than its namesake. I didn't like those roguelikes nearly as much. Winnie doesn't care about any of this, of course; he's never even played Rogue.
Winnie doesn't realize that all these locks and keys are just busywork.
The opening cinematic depicts a cross-legged woman hovering in the air before a generic adventurer, reciting (in recorded voice) a verse about an ancient orb she hopes to find. "My lady, I have answered your summons!" the adventurer announces, just as the mysterious woman divines the location of the orb: "A place of traps to crack brave bones . . . an ancient dungeon." She casts a spell that causes a little orb to shoot across the room and stick to a wall map. The adventurer gushes: "It's a strong magic that can point to maps." Is it really? I would think that would be a pretty easy spell. Incidentally, I don't think that map depicts any place in Faerün.
What about letting you levitate indefinitely in the air?
The adventurer questions her about the salary she intends to pay, but she dismisses him by saying he'll find his salary on the floor of the dungeon: "There lies gold and gem enough for any man." The adventurer protests: "You'll pay me now or I'll never get there! I need horses, supplies . . . " The woman cuts off his protests by zapping him with a teleport spell that apparently warps him directly to the dungeon. "Live or die, adventurer," she says as he disappears, "but bring the orb to me."
Our adventurer forgets what franchise he's a part of.
He appears in a swamp outside a blocky-looking dungeon, a gargoyle's head looming above the entryway. As he approaches the door on a wooden walkway, some kind of troll or similar beast leaps out of the swamp onto the walkway in front of him. In perhaps the most (unintentionally?) hilarious moment in introductory cinematic history, the adventurer reaches up and smacks the troll back into the water, barely breaking his stride. "Bring on your worst, dungeon. I am ready!" he declares, as the game transitions to the main menu.
He won't be nearly as effective once he actually gets into the dungeon.
For his character, the player has the options to create one or choose from a slate of characters with existing names and backstories. I started to recount the list of pre-made characters, but there are like 20 of them, and they're not all that interesting. I'll just observe that a couple of them (principally "Fatzon Axemaiden" and "Kathra Shallowtaint") have unfortunate names, and many of their stories don't seem to go with their alignments. We're told repeatedly that nominally good characters are only in it for the wealth, for instance. 
I mean, it would be kind of weird if . . . you know what? I'm just going to let it go.
If you want to create your own character--and of course that's what you want to do if you want to be either Chester's or Winnie's friend--your experience is governed by second-edition AD&D rules. That means race/class restrictions and level caps. Only humans can be paladins; only humans or half-elves can be bards; only humans, elves, or half-elves can be rangers. Only demi-humans can be any multi-class.
It's nice to have all the character creation options on one screen.
Bards are appearing for what I believe is the first time in an official Dungeons & Dragons title. It's a funny game to make their debut, as they don't work great as solo characters. The game also didn't implement any bard song abilities, so the bard is basically a thief who can cast the occasional spell. Weirdly, his alignment must have the word "neutral" on either side but not both. Another oddity is that bards and thieves can wield any weapons.

Single-class fighters, rangers, and paladins start at Level 3; clerics, bards, and thieves at Level 4; and mages at Level 5. That's good; I was thinking about playing as a mage--which I almost never do--but I wasn't looking forward to casting "Magic Missile" once and then resting. 
Portraits for male characters.
You can re-roll the standard set of D&D attributes as many times as you want or just set the attributes to whatever you want. (The manual doesn't even pretend that you're trying to "match a favorite AD&D® character" anymore.) Alignments are from the standard set of 9, and I'm not sure what significance they have for this game. Your last character selection is a portrait.
After that, you get to customize the game's length and difficulty. There are sliders and toggles for the number of levels, the difficulty of monsters, the deadliness of poison, the presence of undead, and a dozen other features. "Easy," "Moderate," and "Hard" macro-settings toggle these switches accordingly. Of particular note is "Character Death Real," a toggle switch that turns on permadeath. The lowest number you can set the dungeon levels is 10, so you can't make yourself a game that's too easy. Finally, you can manually set the "dungeon seed"--the basis of the procedural level generation--in case you want to play the same maps as a friend or something.
All of the dungeon settings on "moderate."
For this introductory session, I messed around with a few character options, I tried a paladin, a fighter/mage, a bard, and finally finished the level with another paladin. I'll get some opinions before I move forward with any of these characters.
Once you commit to a dungeon, the game takes a few minutes to build it using the numeric seed you or the game chose. You're then deposited at the bottom of the entry stairs with a basic set of starting equipment, including a couple of rations. 
This bard seems out of his league.
Other than their size (28 x 27), dungeon levels are all randomized. I don't know that they share any specific code, but the nature of the randomization seems very similar to that in Anthony Crowther's Captive (1990). The levels are large but quite linear, since the randomization algorithm (unlike NetHack's, we must observe) does not allow access to the same destination from multiple directions. Doors are placed at random intervals, and opening them can involve a variety of buttons, chains, switches, and keys. If the door is keyed, the algorithm ensures that an appropriate key will always be found on the floor before reaching the door. "Keys" can include mallets that strike gongs, coins that drop into slots, and gems that fit into murals on the walls. There's an option in the customization settings to turn on multi-leveled puzzles, for which keys are sometimes found on previous levels, but I guess there are ways that this can screw up the game.
Hitting this gong with a mallet is a variant of a lock and key.
Textures for walls, doors, and floors are also randomized, including wood, rough-hewn stone, polished marble, and various types of paneling. To keep things from getting too boring, developers also threw in some random decorations and furnishings, most of which can be clicked on for a brief message. These include tapestries with demonic beings ("I certainly hope this creature only appears in this dungeon as a tapestry and not in the flesh!"), paintings, engravings, carvings, incense burners, and floor grates. 
It's also for young lovers to stick their hands in and then pretend they were bitten off by retracing their hands into their sleeves as an amusing part of a falling-in-love montage.
Every once in a while, a wall is replaced with a cool kneeling statue, blocking access (I don't know if there's any way to remove him) or a hole that only the smaller races can get through. There are also illusory doors and the occasional  niche with treasures.
I have to have one of these for my house.
The programming part of this is all impressive, but I was already sick of it by the end of the first level. Randomization--or, at least, this kind of randomization--prohibits both interesting and realistic dungeon layouts. For all its randomization, NetHack manages to drop in the occasional castle, throne room, store, and treasure zoo. Does Dungeon Hack have anything similar? If so, it's not on the first level. What it does have is plenty of cases where you spend half an hour finding a key to a locked door only to find three squares of nothing on the other side of it.
This creepy arm is a lever that opens a door.
Each level does have plenty of monsters and treasure, and no matter what seed I started with, the first level had mostly goblins and orcs, maybe with a zombie or two towards the end. Monsters have a variable number of hit points, but they mostly die in one hit, even from the weaker characters. Of course, the character is also pretty weak, and once he or she is down to 8 hit points or less, a single blow could easily mean death, with no other party members to cast healing spells. The same tricks that work in most Dungeon Master variants work here, including the "combat waltz," backpedaling down hallways while throwing things (anything, it seems, can be used as a missile weapon), and so on. 
I got "held" for a little while by this undead. Fortunately, "held" characters can still move. They just can't do anything else.
The floors are strewn with treasures, including weapons, armor, amulets, potions, wands, scrolls, and rations. I didn't find any rings on Level 1, but I assume they're coming. Scrolls are all labeled, but nothing else is identified, which is a staple of both Dungeon Master clones and roguelikes. Potions, amulets, and wands are identified by color or material (e.g., pink potion, bronze amulet, pine wand), and once you find out what one does, you've identified all others of the same description. The problem is that the game offers no NetHack-like ways of testing what the different items do without trying them and hoping for the best. The effectiveness of armor can be assayed by changes to the armor class, but I'm not sure there's any way, save one, to identify weapons at all.
The one exception is if you have a mage or bard who can cast "Improved Identify," which allows you to identify items one at a time. The other classes must either have to rely on scrolls, which I haven't found, some other mechanism that hasn't appeared yet, or just guess. 
Now I just need to know what an "Amulet of Imminent Return" actually is.
Other notes:
  • There's a food meter that slowly depletes. So far, all my characters have found enough rations to keep up with it.
  • A minor-mode march plays over the title screen, but there is no music in the game itself. There are serviceable sound effects, mostly taken from Beholder.
  • You occasionally find machines that take single gold coins to fully restore your health. That's the only "economy" I've seen in the game so far.
A little boon to those of us who aren't clerics.
  • The game has no issue starting multi-classed mages (and bards) wearing armor that prevents them from casting any of their spells.
  • I bought the GOG version of the game. It comes with a pre-loaded "High Score" list that has "C. Nova" at the top with 1,024,000 experience points. Other names in the hall of fame are Sprig, Mario, Elizabeth Zazo, J. J. Farnsworth, Room 9B, Borel Darkonious, Jojo the Great, Brady Cosmo, and Reamy Ro. At first, I thought GOG had ripped some random user's disk, but since all the experience point totals are perfectly even, I suspect these names were in the original. 
SSI could have made these numbers more realistic.
  • The game has an excellent automap that annotates monsters (even in completely different parts of the dungeon) and items on the ground. It takes a good 10 seconds to appear, however.
A good automap. I can even see the colors.
  • Monsters appear to respawn.
How I move forward will depend on what type of challenge I want to create for myself. Obviously, if I just wanted to breeze through, I could use "easy" mode with a paladin or fighter/cleric or something. But some things walk a fine line between "challenging" and "annoying." I'm toying with the following settings:
  • Dungeon Depth = 13. Why prolong things? Setting it to the minimum, 10, seems lame, though.
  • Monster Amount = High. I like combat-related challenges. I might as well set this high to compensate for the other things I'm thinking about doing.
  • Monster Difficulty = maybe a smidge higher than normal.
  • Illusory Walls = Off. The last thing I need is to have to go all the way back to pick up three squares in some corner of the dungeon that I missed on the first pass.
  • Food Availability = High. Keeping myself fed is not necessarily the type of challenge I'm looking for.
  • Water Level = Off. I hate water levels. Plus, someone told me you can get into a "walking dead" situation where you can't survive them.
  • Encounter Undead = On. Who doesn't like undead?
  • Other settings default.
As for characters, I'm toying with:
  • Paladin. Just my default single-character game character.
  • Mage. For the challenge and "Improved Identify."
  • Fighter/Mage or Cleric/Mage. Less of a challenge, still get the spell.
  • Bard. For the novelty of it, and I still get "Improved Identify," plus he's kind of a fighter-thief without the restrictions of multi-classing.
I'll be happy to take your thoughts before moving forward. Even 13 levels feels like it's going to be long.
Time so far: 3 hours 


  1. Yeah, Dungeon Hack... So promising on paper and such a bad game. I got bored after two or three levels. Regardin difficulty, personally I would lower the number of keys as the game can generate an aburd number of them and it is super tedious

  2. Interesting how this game has a ton of new graphical assets for walls, decorations, and monsters; whereas Eye of the Beholder 3 is full of reused or sloppily-edited art.

    It's definitely not following D&D rules that "held" or paralyzed characters can still walk, but this comes from the game's blobber heritage where party movement is always available regardless of the status of each party member.

    As I recall, "easy mode" for this game is to play a Cleric, since he gets spells to cure basically any negative condition the game throws at you, plus Create Food. No Improved Identify, though. Bards do fine as a solo class in D&D, especially since they level up much faster than other classes.

  3. I've played Dungeon Hack before, and if I'm not wrong, it shares an AESOP program name with Eye of Beholder 3, which makes some sense when you consider that in EoB you can still move your 4-person party when they are held.

    The random nature of the dungeon is lame, admittedly, especially since every level has precisely 2 types monsters that spawn and respawn infinitely, cyhf obff zbafgre gung fcnjaf arne gur fgnvef qbja, naq tvirf uvture RKC naq fbzr rkgen vgrzf. (ROT13)

    Still, I remember having some fun with it. Also, I remember that there are no level limits implemented in it, so demihumans can reach whatever level! (Which is also true in Eye of Beholder series)

    Also the " 'Tis a powerful magic that can point to maps." line was absolutely, definitely meant to be sarcastic.

    1. Yes, DH reuses the EOTB3 engine, except EOB3 requires 32-bit mode (and therefore has performance issues on contemporary systems) and DH does not.

      There are a couple of "standard" ways to build a random a dungeon, so I'm not surprised that two procgen games give similar results. However, that the dungeon requires *minutes* to build suggests really poor coding.

    2. Frankly, from when I played the GOG version of the game, the generation did take maybe 12 seconds, not minutes. But also, after generation, loading and saving only took a moment.

    3. Being sarcastic with powerful mages is rarely a good idea (as the player character finds.)

    4. I had thought that perhaps the player character was a cat, fascinated by a laser pointer.

    5. Re: Load times: When I played Dungeon Hack in 97/98 (I think it would have been a 133 MHz Pentium or 350 MHz Pentium II), level generation was just a second or two, and map display was instantaneous.

      Re: Powerful map magic: Generally D&D divination spells are high level or have severe restrictions on them to prevent them from spoiling the campaign and skipping straight to the end. They are either very specialized in what they find, or are short ranged, or you have to have some object related to what you're looking for, or require some kind of special knowledge, or are very vague. A perfect "tell me where in the world this is, I have no clue, no strings attached" would be fairly high level.

      The first RPG I played was the demo for Exile, on a Mac at my school, but Dungeon Hack was the first one I actually had a chance to get into (played it a lot on a relative's computer, then got the SSI FR Collection for my birthday), so even though I see it has a bunch of problems when I look at it now, I still have a soft spot for it.

      Here's a big tip for mages, clerics, and bards; especially handy when you want to do multiple Improved Identify castings:

      Nsgre lbh bcra gur fcryy yvfg, vg fgnlf bcra rira vs lbh erzbir lbhe fcryyobbx/ubyl vgrz sebz lbhe unaqf. Vqragvsl jbexf ba jungf va obgu lbhe unaqf.

    6. @Dalinar the issue is that EOB3 used AESOP 16 instead of 32, and hence the use of a patch to make it run properly on modern systems. Dungeon Hack uses already 32 if I remember correctly.

    7. The GOG version of EOB3 comes with AESOP/32, Dungeon Hack with AESOP/16. I think the /32 is misleading, both are 16-bit DOS executables.

    8. @Carlos it's the other way around: EOB3 uses AESOP/32, which had major performance issues on 1993 systems. I think it tries to use 32-bit memory addresses in 16-bit DOS (i.e. more than 640 Kb), that's why it's so slow. The newer AESOP version used in DH doesn't do this.

      Trying to use more than 640 Kb in a variety of ways was common in the early 90s (Ultima 7 is particularly infamous for the way in which they solved it), but as EOTB1 and 2 and DH prove, really not necessary for this particular game.

    9. No. Both EOB3 and Dungeon Hack were released with AESOP/16. AESOP/32 is an improved version that was developed for an EOB3 patch, but never officially released. John Miles released the source code for it, and the GOG version now incorporates it, but from old threads you can see that people patched the GOG version to A/32 themselves before that.

      Dungeon Hack never got that treatment, although adapted AESOP/32 versions for DH can be found on the Dosbox forums.

      The /32 could indeed have to do with memory, as A/32 incorporates the common DOS4G memory extender. I can't find any references to it in the A/16 executable. However, A/32 is the more stable version of the two.

  4. The map doesn't look like anywhere I've seen in Faerun. Perhaps a little bit like Osse? How appropriate that the title makes a big deal about it being 'Forgotten Realms' and then forgets to make it a known realm.

    1. To fit more in the Forgotten Realms, they could have used preexisting characters instead of a generic floating woman; FR family names instead of "Shallowtaint"; or famous FR names on the high score table instead of names from Nintendo and Futurama.

      This is a problem that EOTB3 also shares, and neither game contains D&D's famous iconic monsters like beholders. I guess Borel Darkonius is the D&D character of one of the programmers?

    2. The Farnsworth's probably more of a reference to the guy that invented TV, considering Futurama didn't exist when this came out

    3. Futurama's Farnsworth is, of course, named for the TV guy. (In much of the world John Logie Baird is credited with inventing television instead. It depends on what you consider to count as "television"; a bunch of guys invented things that more-or-less-but-not-quite were "television" around the same time, working independently)

  5. "We're told repeatedly that nominally good characters are only in it for the wealth, for instance." Who knew Ayn Rand tried her hand at video game character backstories after finishing Atlas Shrugged?

    1. Perhaps they're fans of Peter Singer and effective altruism? "Make lots of money/gold so you can donate to good causes" is consistent with a good alignment.

    2. I suspect Singer would consider the exploitation/extermination of dungeon cultures to be a utility loss that outweighs the gain of the donation.

    3. But what about dungeon creatures being always evil Untermens... uh.... monsters? They are always evil, they eat and drink evil, they feed evil to their kids with mother's milk, it's their racial... uh... species-wide trait! Their acts, hence, bring more utility loss than their continued... Ah, scrap that, it would not count as "ONLY in for the money" anymore lol

    4. One could also make the case that bringing back valuable archaeological finds is a "good" thing to do, because I assume that this horrible, grungy castle isn't going to be resettled by its original peoples anytime soon.

  6. My default character in such cases (and in this game in particular) is a half-elven Ranger\Cleric. I don't like Paladins much. Played this game only for a short while, because I don't really enjoy plotless games with a randomly generated content.

  7. I kind of remember lock-picking being a thing, but I could be wrong. I don't remember humans being able to dual class either. Probably the easiest run is a Half-Elf Fighter/Mage/Cleric, or a Ranger/Cleric. Just remember with 2nd Editions level drains from undead, you don't get restoration until a cleric can cast 7th level spells

  8. "We're told repeatedly that nominally good characters are only in it for the wealth"

    The evil ones are only in it for the XP.

    1. And they kept finding out that the supposedly easy XP in town turned out to be much harder than they were expecting...

  9. Just from my perspective:

    - Undead: I hate level-draining, so while it's ok and even interesting to have some fixed and/or limited random encounters with enemies capable of it, I don't think I'd like them much in a game where each level has two standard enemy types, so I could end up with dozens of random encounters risking level-drain - and less so as a single character as opposed to a party. Surely would not combine this with a setting of high combat rate and higher monster difficulty, unless you can toggle those during the game, e.g. for a specific dungeon level with lots of level-drainers.

    Even if there are / were sufficient 'Restoration' options around, don't they just put you back to the respective level threshold with all XP you gained towards the next level lost? Not sure from memory and haven't looked it up again. Also a thing I consider an annoyance rather than a challenge.

    - Another element to possibly keep in mind: I understand there are enemies in this game which can petrify. Ok in a party-based game with the respective healing spells or facilities, but for a single character that sounds like immediate game over to me. So unless you can toggle their existence or at least frequency, this might mean either (temporarily?) lowering encounter rate or possibly a lot of reloading on a respective level.

    - I love tactical combat in the Gold Box games, but a lof of it is lost to me with a single character and in real-time (as opposed to typical turn-based roguelikes like NetHack). This combined with the 'only two enemy types per level' (plus boss) element of DH means a high encounter and higher enemy difficulty setting might not give me much pleasure, but that's me.

    1. I haven't played Dungeon Hack, but by the later Gold Box games (eg, Pools of Darkness), Restoration could already restore your XP all the way back to where it was before you were drained (with enough castings).

    2. I once lost an ironman game to petrification but only because I got really careless. In my experience it doesn't happen very often - I'm not sure if they improved the odds of the player, or if I was just lucky.

      For undead levels, you just keep negative plane protection up all time - if you have a priest. If not, I guess you should be good at doing the waltz. I don't think the monsters drain on any hit, though.

    3. By second edition D&D rules, yes they drain on every hit. And for some monsters, two levels on every hit.

    4. No saving throw?

      I might just misremember. I think there are only two undead monster types that drain levels anyway, and usually I remembered to cast negative plane protection.

    5. Ok, I made the mistake of playing this again, for once playing a non-cleric (paladin), and of course I got hit with a level with two level-draining monsters early one. I already wanted to write that they drain on every hit, but later on in the level I got two hits that didn't drain me (maybe the game is buggy).

      However, this game's version of permadeath is very benign. It only deletes all saves once your character dies, but you can freely reload otherwise. I don't see how you'd handle the level draining without it, clerics aside. Waltzing is difficult and tedious in the long corridors anyway, and this game has some timing issues and repeatedly slows down to a crawl. I though the GOG version used the patched but never released AESOP/32 engine, but it is the slow AESOP/16 version of EOB3.

      The RNG can be really evil, too. I set food consumption to low, and amount of food to normal, but had a series of four levels where I found basically no food at all. I almost dies hadn't I stumbled upon a healing machine at the last moment. I would have saved me from continuing this game.

    6. Also, for the first time I've played this I realized there's a second page of male character portraits. Females only get one.

  10. The picture of the castle in the intro is really unfortunate. The tiny size of it and what I assume are supposed to be the rear turrets in shadow makes it look like a very cheap set casting a shadow on the backdrop.

    My experience of the game is that the levels very much feel like they were made by an algorithm - corridors and doors are plonked down with little in the way of logic or flow. Even Captive’s levels felt a bit more like something a human had a hand in designing. It’s not very satisfying to play.

  11. It will take until Unexplored (2017) for procedural generation to become capable of generating interesting puzzles.

  12. Would Dungeon Hack be more tactical and fun if it was turn-based? Or would you make the same decisions, just without time pressure? I think roguelikes don't require you to deliberate that often, and for those situations a pause feature where you're allowed to examine your inventory might be sufficient.

    The game Barony is kind of a modern equivalent to Dungeon Hack, being a 3D real-time roguelike. (With fluid movement, not tile-based.) But man, navigating endless randomized worm tunnels in first person can get really confusing. A top-down perspective is a lot easier to navigate.

    1. A level generation algorithm that only creates branching paths and never any loops is annoying, because you have to backtrack a lot if you want to explore the branches you've bypassed.

      Those monsters on the automap on the path you've traveled - did they spawn there, or did they wander in from unexplored parts of the level?

      If this game's approach always results in facing only one enemy ahead and doesn't have any enemies approaching from behind in battle (which sometimes happens in classic roguelikes due to looping level layouts), then it must be really monotonous.

    2. I don't know about roguelikes not requiring frequent deliberation. One of the most popular pieces of advice in the DCSS community is "take your hands off the keyboard and think". But traditional roguelikes can put you in much more complicated tactical positions than blobbers.

    3. Bitmap, the monsters on the automap respawned in those locations. So, yes, you could end up with enemies coming from behind.

      Have we seen a turn-based first-person game yet? I probably would enjoy it more, but it would have to be balanced better to account for the inability to dodge and flee combat.

    4. Okay, that was a dumb question. I meant a turn-based first-person game where the combat took place without switching to a separate combat map or menu. Obviously, we've seen plenty of those going back to Wizardry. Remaining on the exploration interface wasn't a part of your question, so I don't know why my mind went there.

    5. The old Doom RPG game (the one for pre-iphone/android mobile phones) and its spiritual descendant, Orcs and Elves for the Nintendo DS. I really enjoyed them, always thought it was a shame that style didn't catch on

    6. How quickly we all forget about the great Moraff.

    7. It's Moraff's World and all the rest of us are just living in it.

    8. Don't the Might and Magic games (starting with 3 or something) offer a turn based mode for combat? I know it does starting with 6.

    9. Not until MM6. That is an interesting implementation. I look forward to talking about it.

  13. I remember this was one of my favorite later SSI games, but that's based off a single playthrough from when I was going through everything D&D GoG had like 6 or 7 years ago, and I feel like I'd have a different opinion on... well, most of the later SSI stuff but especially this if I were to replay it. All I remember is that I played some sort of cleric, which just tells me I only think well of it for having a gameplay loop I liked and having a (theoretically) familiar setting compared to the other D&D games of the era I played, especially considering I remember liking Menzoberranzan over the Ravenloft games for similar reasons

  14. This was the first PC RPG I ever played as a kid, and I thought it was amazing. We had an Atari ST at home so I'd attempted to play Phantasie a few times but never got far before the black knights slaughtered me. This was more accessible and I remember thinking the graphics were so realistic, and scary for some reason. I tried playing it the other day, and yeah it was definitely a "Don't meet your childhood heroes moment", it was nothing like my imagination had made it out to be!

  15. I totally love this game. I tend to play it off and on just about every year. Like you, Chet, I turn the food all the way on and the hunger all the way down, and use the food packs to mark teleports on those levels. I also play max levels - because I'm a certified completionist. There are a few drawbacks to the game, I totally hate the walls where it is almost impossible to see the alcoves without spinning like a top every step. Plus, when the game just flat out won't give up the Improved Identify scroll. I also learned to truly hate the Fehyr (?) unless you have a particular spell - then it is "Here kitty kitty..." The absolute best is when you have two hammers going down the hall for the kill while backpedaling. Of course Vampire Touch in one hand and Mordy's sword in the other! Love it! Hit the monster. Kill it in one touch. Recast it and find another one. Yes, it is a tad repetitive - concede that, but still an awful lot of fun for a rather simple, but splendid game!

    1. I'll confess, I tend to play without the keys and the secret doors most of the time - it just gets old and you only have so much inventory. I'm looking for the stuff I want, not debris.

  16. I seem to remember the Cleric starts with spells for summoning a magic armor, a magic sword and magic infinitely-reusable missile weapons (spiritual hammer, more like magic boomerang), which can carry you through the game. Especially casting spiritual hammer twice and filling the air with bouncy mallets.

  17. 13 Levels is enough to get the full experience. There are 2 levels that are very tough but once you pass the second one, they're all pretty much the same.

    Every level has 2 monster types and once boss monster that could be a third type and is quite a bit harder than the other monsters found on the level.

    Yes, multi-level puzzles can put you in a walking-dead situation if you use your keys in the wrong spots. You could always grind hoping to find a chime of opening, but they're rare.

    The most powerful character type in the game is fbzr fbeg bs pyrevp, cebonoyl ryira, qhny jvryqvat fcvevghny unzzref.

  18. Incidentally, I don't think that map depicts any place in Faerün.

    On the contrary, I think that map is a distorted representation of all of Faerün, from Icewind Dale in the north to the Shining Sea and Dambrath in the south.

    I posted my annotated screenshot here on Reddit:

  19. Good lord I hate forever games. Give me a satisfying ending and let me move on to something else.

  20. Interesting, that menu has a lot of shades of simulation games from around this time. Dynamix in particular used a similar menu for deciding how realistic their flight sims were. Mind you, you don't get options here that turn you invulnerable or give you infinite spell points like Dynamix would give you.

  21. I have been looking forward for your series on "Dungeon Hack".

    Last autumn, I reread your series on the three "Eye of the Beholder", then, because a commenter wrote that the EB3 engine was reused for "Dungeon Hack", I tried out the latter. Lots of the graphics looked extremely familiar. Where had I seen them before? Hmmm... Indeed, it was in your series about "Eye of the Beholder 3"!

    Chester, you writing is so good that you gave me a "déjà vu" experience on a game (EB3) that I never played, but just read! Your blog is amazing!

  22. I'm not entirely sure but I remember the dungeon having the occasional loop. I don't think it's entirely just branching out.

    I basically always ended up playing a fighter/cleric/mage, because I didn't want to bother with food, wanted a way to identify things, but used physical attacks mostly for combat.

    1. I'm pretty sure you're right about having loops occasionally in the dungeon.

  23. I don't think there is any point in selecting more than 10 floors. I once played the full 25 floor game wondering what monsters I will encounter on the late floors. Turns out floor 25 was filled with the same minotaurs and scorpions that also appeared on much earlier floors. The final boss also died in a few seconds. I don't think its stats scale with the floor count either so a shorter game is actually more difficult.

  24. Random generated levels are lame in my opinion. That's the reason roguelikes try to put as much depth and content as they can, so players do not get bored of the game. But in the end, it still a bland experience, i have levels of a diverse of games memorized in my brain. In roguelikes i don't remember anything, the experience is usually forgettable. Funny because i played DoomRL, that games mixes random generated levels with handcrafted levels, i can only remember the experiences of me playing it in the handcrafted levels. One reason might be multiple exposures, the brain is better at memorizing a thing that was exposed to you multiple times, since you can't replay a randomized level, you brain can never memorize them, in DoomRL i had to replay the handracted levels multiple times in every run, which got annoying at some point, but on the plus side it's more memorable. The other reason is that the handcrafted levels have clever placed encounters that the generator could not do, in DoomRl the tough encounters and bosses are usually in the handcrafted levels.

    Roguelikes can still have some memorable experiences through gameplay moment, like those crazy Yet Another Stupid Death moments from Nethack or some incidental emergent gameplay stuff that blows your mind, but this is more for the complex ones like Nethack and CDDA. So it's not 100% bad, it has its positives and negatives.

    1. Vaults/prefabs in roguelikes are great (and started appearing in the genre almost immediately after Rogue itself), but if the game was entirely made up of vaults you'd see them all before too long. Not being able to memorize procgen levels is the point. (It'd also kind of be like a movie that's entirely big action setpieces.)

    2. Yes, the best roguelikes make you manage risks because you don't know what might happen next, and this requires that at least sometimes you're playing something that the designer hasn't laid out to have a set solution. Like one of my most memorable Bullet Brogue moments was when I had to jump off level one to avoid an ogre, and wound up fighting my way back to the upstairs badly wounded through out of depth monsters--and I was only able to do it this time because the level generated a cul-de-sac with a paralysis trigger that the paralysis gas couldn't reach, so I could stomp on the trigger and create a safe space to recover my health. It would've been dull if I had been able to look at the level and say "Yeah, this is the one with the cul-de-sac."

      But it does take a lot of complexity to be able to generate those moments, and it sounds like Dungeon Hack doesn't have it. I feel like a good roguelike needs setups where different elements merge in unexpected ways, and it seems like Dungeon Hack literally doesn't have it, with the level design only allowing access to locations from one direction. Sounds like this makes the map basically a branching menu for finding battles, and while there are plenty of fine games like Slay the Spire that use the map as a menu to select the next encounter from, it's very different from a traditional roguelike. (And those have interesting combat.)

    3. Regarding your argument about memorability from multiple exposures: suppose you choose a roguelike/roguelite with good procedural levels such as Unexplored, and then you always enter the same random seed in the main menu, which means that the dungeon will be the same in every run. (Not every roguelike allows this, but Unexplored does.) Presumably this dungeon will then become somewhat memorable for you?

      It won't be as coherent and creative as a good manually designed dungeon, but it might also have some unique situations that you're unlikely to encounter in a manually designed dungeon. The game will become easier because it wasn't balanced for this approach, but maybe that's not a problem.

      It'd be cool if someone who doesn't like procedurally generated levels and who hasn't yet played the game in question tried this approach in earnest and reported about it. I haven't found any such report on Reddit or similar.

    4. Bitmap definitely possible to do that, you play one time with the same seed, without savescumming, so if you die, you restart but with the same seed. After you beat the game you wait like 6 months to play it again, you definitely going to remember things, get the deja vu feelings that happens in others games. It also going to be a lot easier. Even mid games that i came back to years later to play it again, they got a lot easier because i start to remember what to do. There's one puzzle in a Adventure game that i vaguely know the solution even now after 15 years! while i'm not going to be able solve it right way, i will not get stuck in it for hours again, that's for sure.

      Of course it's not just multiple exposures to the level layout that makes something memorable, music and graphics help too! for example, i only played Ocarina of Time once, decades ago, however if i listen to 'Sarias Song', i immediately think of the Lost Woods level, that maze that i got stuck often when i was a kid. It's impossible to not to, the song and the level are inseparable. I'm talking about leitmotif here.

      So yeah going back to your question, it's possible but i don't know why anyone would do it, you will miss like 90% of the game. It's better o appreciate roguelikes for what they are and what they can uniquely do.

  25. I think I have bounced off this game about three times between 2000 and 2020. I wonder when the next time my brain will forget the limitations and trick me into trying it again.

  26. I loved this game as a kid, but in my defense, I grew up mostly playing console games, and this was one of the few PC RPGs I was able to wrap my head around. I had played the Sega CD port of Eye of the Beholder, so I was familiar with the interface and conventions, and the idea of a game like EoB but with randomly generated dungeons (like Fatal Labyrinth!) was *very* exciting to me.

    I don't know if it's against the spirit of the challenge, but whenever I revisit this game in the modern era I always use the keymapper function in DOSbox (ctrl-F1) to remap the numpad keys to a more modern WASD layout; it greatly improves playability and makes the harder difficulty modes more doable. It is much simpler than what you're used to playing on PC, and I don't expect your opinion will dramatically change, but I look forward to seeing your perspective as always.

  27. As others have said, go for a Cleric. Dual-wielding Spiritual Hammer gets you more powerful than Thor; you hit twice and then twice again when they return.

    Nitpick: it's DreamForge "Intertainment", the same company behind Menzoberranzan, the two Ravenloft games, and others.

    1. It's also a rebrand of Event Horizon, the developers of DarkSpyre and The Summoning.

  28. -Sheesh, if Forgotten Realms is such a bugbear that you have to have a TM by it every time, why put it on the character creation screen? Is it so integral to know that we're in the Forgotten Realms in such a plotless game?
    -Why does the guy in the introduction cinematic not have a corresponding portrait! There was all of one character to draw!
    -"Gilding the lily" with voice acting in the intro to, again, such a plotless game makes me almost feel sorry for the people in charge of departments like Voice Acting when a game that really doesn't need it (such as this or, say, Super Mario Sunshine) is in development by their employer, they have to practically shoehorn the one thing that they're good at doing into the latest project in order to not be seen as redundant. When all you have is a hammer, y'know.
    -You said that this oath doesn't fit in Forgotten Realms, which is true, but in what DND setting IS there a Jesus to inspire the "God's blood!" oath? Is it like Discworld where it has all of our nomenclature and sayings, but they just have different etymologies? ("Jesus Christ was a farmer who singlehandedly stopped a herd of invading war elephants by surrounding the castle with rakes, so that's why you say "Jesus Christ!" whenever you step on the end of a rake.")
    -Is it just me, or is this first level way too big? If there's one thing Zelda should get props for, it's that the first real dungeon levels are always small.

    1. It does seem odd that this game goes out of its way to remind you that it takes place in the Realms, even though it can take place in just about any generic fantasy setting and it wouldn't be any different.

      Come to think of it, why did DreamForge waste all that money for a D&D license on a game that didn't really need one?

    2. SSI had the licence and the engine. I doubt it was DreamForge's decision and I don't think they wasted money. I assume TSR "just" got a share of each sale, and having a D&D product from a line of well-known games should have boosted sales quite a bit.

      I don't know why they placed the Forgotten Realms logo so prominently. I guess it didn't cost extra. Unlimited adventures at least lists the monsters you also meet in Dungeon Hack as "Forgotten Realm monsters".

    3. I mean, obviously the game would sell more with the "D&D" and "FR" logos prominently displayed. I'm just surprised they didn't (and weren't required by TSR to) include more FR material.

      Like, have the location be explicitly below Candlekeep, the quest given by Elminster or someone famous, items like the "Scimitar of Drizz't" instead of "Helm of Joe Randomname", and have some actual beholders in the game...

    4. According to Jimmy Maher, TSR pretty much stopped providing much input into the SSI games after Curse of the Azure Bonds. To the extent they were paying attention to what SSI was doing, they would have been focused on Dark Sun. TSR would end the licensing agreement the next year.

      I believe the reason the "Forgotten Realms" branding is so prominent on Dungeon Hack is because TSR retooled their branding in 1993 to emphasize the various settings in AD&D 2. Around this time you see a lot more material with prominent Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, etc. branding and a noticeable de-emphasis of AD&D.

  29. Saw the box at the video game museum in Vienna today!

  30. "Kathra Shallowtaint" would be a great name for a doom metal band that specialized in Indigo Girls covers.


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