Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dungeon Master: Level 2

Is this an example of the liar paradox?

It's been a productive day. And when I say "productive day," I don't mean in any real sense, like I made any progress on my dissertation or installed my new sink or graded any of the 30 papers I have to grade. No, I mean "productive" as in I won Beyond Zork and got through the second level of Dungeon Master. So, you know, in the stuff that matters.

The Beyond Zork posting will have to wait until tomorrow because I plan to replay the entire game now that I know all the puzzles. I want to try out a few different things and record a master script of my gameplay.

I have less to say about Dungeon Master. Exploring Level 2 of the dungeon served the dual purpose of advancing the game and teaching me more about how the game works. I discovered:

  • The levels in Dungeon Master are quite large. I think Level 2 was 33 x 33, compared to 16 x 16 for Might & Magic and 20 x 20 for the Wizardry series. It's not quite as large as it sounds because unlike the other games, corridors do not share the same walls; there's always a bit of space in between them, as you can see from my partial map below.

  • Ultimately, I stopped mapping, partly because the level was very linear--there were many locked gates you couldn't get through until you found a specific key or switch in a previous part of the dungeon--party because switching from the game (which uses the mouse) to the Excel map was a bit of a pain, and partly because I just didn't feel like it. I imagine I'll have to pick up mapping again on later levels.
  • There were a few light puzzles on Level 2, one involving a series of pressure plates that I had to hit in the right order to open some gates, and a couple others involving dropping objects on pressure plates. Nothing too difficult so far.

Pressure plates on the floor.
  • As I mentioned, getting through this level involved finding a series of keys to open various doors and gates. Some of them were very hard to see against the dungeon floor. The CRPG Addict is color-blind, which might have something to do with it, or it could be just bad game design.
  • If you accidentally walk into a wall, your lead characters take a hit point or two of damage. Seriously? My characters are so dumb they go charging into solid walls?
  • I found a couple of chests. It took me a while before I realized I could take the chests and use them to increase my inventory slots. Right now, I have lots and lots of food items that my characters don't need, but I have a sneaking suspicion food will be less plentiful on lower levels.

Hawk stores his bread and mushrooms.
  • You see your way through the dark through either a "magic torch" spell or actual torches. At the level I can cast right now, the actual torches are brighter. The neat thing is that they don't just burn for a while and then fizzle out; they get darker as time passes.
  • You can bash some doors.

This is always satisfying.
  • There are a lot of things that look like hooks on various walls. I can't seem to manipulate them in any way, so I assume they're just decoration. If not, I've been missing a lot of stuff.
  • The only thing that makes me really nervous is that I'm not sure how secret doors are found in this game. I hope I didn't miss a bunch on this level.

Menaced by mummies.

For combat, the characters can arm themselves with either melee weapons or throwing weapons. There are several "waiting slots" for throwing weapons, so when one is hurled, the next one pops into the character's hands. On this level, I encountered a lot of mummies and...I don't know...giant fungi, I guess. My strategy was to hang back when I could and exhaust my throwing weapons (you can pick them up again later), then let them come to me for the melee.

Leyla's arrows, shurikens, and knives await her deft wrists.

During combat, I had a few messages to the extent that "so-and-so has gained a fighter level." Dungeon Master does not follow the traditional experience-based CRPG leveling system. Rather, as you use your skills, you advance in levels for each class. Melee weapons are a fighter skill, throwing weapons a ninja skill, and magic skills are divided between the priest and wizard classes. Leyla started out as a journeyman ninja, but along the way she also became a "neophyte fighter" because she developed her melee skills. It seems the class levels go: neophyte, novice, apprentice, journeyman. I'm not sure what the levels are called after that.

Leyla's swinging pays off.

The interesting thing is that leveling comes regardless of whether you kill the monster, or even fight a monster at all--every time you throw something or swing a weapon, you slightly increase the associated skill. The same goes for spells, whether successful or not. While I like skill-based systems (The Elder Scrolls series is famous for it), it seems like this opens things up for a lot of abuse. I could stand in a corner and just swing my way to expert fighter status or something. On the other hand, this seems boring and I probably won't do it, so perhaps the potential for abuse is limited.

Leyla shuffles off the mortal coil.

I did die a couple of times. If one character dies, he or she turns into a pile of bones, and you can resurrect him or her in a special alcove on Level 1 (I don't know if there are more throughout the dungeon). If all characters die, you get a "The End" screen and that's that. This happened to me once.

The pacing in Dungeon Master is pretty good, although I suspect it will slow down once I have to take mapping seriously again. I don't know how many levels there are to the dungeon, but as of now, this strikes me as a game to play to the end.

Next up: the final Beyond Zork postings and then a review of Dungeon Master's magic system.

On to Level 3.


  1. Level 2 is an introductory level, things don't really get started until the next floor.

    There's two types of secret doors: Imaginary walls and those which open up after a (more or less) hidden switch, usually in the vicinity, has been pressed. IIRC, there's only one (of the latter type) in lvl2.

    These hooks and shackles on the walls are just dungeon decoration, btw.

  2. It's an odd sort of prejudice, but I really hate it when rpgs set in a "Western" fantasy realm (e.g. based on Greek/Roman/Celtic/Nordic styles and myths) include characters based on Asian mythology. I find it hard to take seriously the idea of a "ninja" accompanying my party. I don't know where this prejudice originates in me, but the two flavours just don't mix. Anyone else feel the same?


  3. I for one would have missed Ninjas & Samurais in Wizardry 6/7/8. Unless the background of the game is actually historical, I don't see a problem - it's fantasy, after all.

  4. Wow, it seems like old CRPGs were even more similar than modern day FPSs. Don't you ever feel like you're just playing the same game over and over?

  5. I always hated it that Dungeon Master made you lose health for banging into a wall!

  6. @Zink: Well, Dungeon Master was quite a fresh take on old theme. It may look like everything before, but it plays differently. And it is I think one of the first games that seem to be balanced. And first where all the new stuff is introduced at slow pace - and commented. Something we take now for granted, but then - it was something new I think.


    The wall does not say anything ...
    The wall has an inscription on it, but yet it does not talk.

    "This is not a pipe", it is just a representation of one on a painting canvas.

  8. Magritte must have been a joy in the TV era.

    MAGRITTE: "That is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That is but a moving image of an actress playing the role of Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

    MAGRITTE'S WIFE: "Go to bed, Rene."

  9. JS,
    I, too, am a bit "bothered" by ninjas in a "western" CRPG (especially those tolkienesk ones). On the other hand I'm quite fascinated with oriental/asian culture so having a asian-themes CRPG poses no problem to me.
    I also don't like wild sci-fi stuff in fantasy worlds and vice-versa. Example: Cyberpunk sci-fi: I love Gibson's strictly hi-tech sprawl world but I only found mediocre entertainment in the Shadowrun universe. I always had problems with the combination of magic and hi-tech.
    I guess I'm a purist here as those combinations often break the immersion for me.

  10. His paintings are marvelous though, in my opinion.

    And all Belgians are crazy, but that's excused by amazing desserts and chocolate :)

  11. Western CRPGs have always been a melange of various cultures, though. Character races and classes come from a mix of traditions and folklore, and the monsters are certainly varied. If you don't like ninjas in a western RPG, how do you feel about a game that simultaneously throws trolls (Scandinavian), minotaurs (Greek), efreets (Arabian), and mummies (Egyptian) at you?

    I think "ninjas" became popular because game creators couldn't figure out another term for stealthy thief-fighter combination types. Nothing from western mythology or history really comes to mind. What's a little mystifying about their inclusion in Dungeon Master is that there's no straight thief class.

  12. i think "thief" is exactly the name, for a western ninja. or so it was localised in my version of D&D. also, there's the successful "ninja fps" series going by the same name. in other games, rogues take up a similar role.

    but yeah, it's a bit disturbing to find ninjas in a classical fantasy setting (after all, the other borrowings are all fictional - minotaurs, efreets, what have you...). ultimately though, it always boils down to whether the game world/script can hold it or not.

    "Seriously? My characters are so dumb they go charging into solid walls?"
    funny thing, we used to consider this an advanced reality simulation immersion feature back then ;). are you so dumb you make your chars charge into solid walls? haha, just kiddin ;).

    as for skilling abuse - yea, now you prolly know what i meant with ninjas against stairways.

  13. Rizla, I actually have no idea what you mean. Do enlighten me.

  14. Man, this post brings back memories: The sequel uses the same screen layouts, though with slightly better graphics on that movement panel as I recall from 10+ years ago.

    The overuse of the term ninja also bugs me: The whole point of the ninja was to assassinate people with stealth, never get into a straight up fight. What is wrong with the terms Ranger, Rogue, Archer, Assassin? *sighs*

  15. "Ninja" was definitely unnecessary in this game since there was no straight "thief" class. I agree that "assassin" is a less jarring class name for those games that include a stealth fighter.

  16. "I always hated it that Dungeon Master made you lose health for banging into a wall!" Then you must have *really* hated it when you accidently loosed a big fireball against the wall you were standing beside! You could practically wipe your party this way...

  17. You know, I remember that happening to me a couple of times, but I forgot to mention it in the blogging. Another reason I didn't like the mouse interface.

    1. This as well as the remark about banging against walls I never understood how it could be cast as criticism against the game since these accidents come naturally from the added freedom of movement.
      We have all accidentally bumped into a pylon, hit a wall by misjudging its distance or or impulse while living our real lives. Similarly, when preparing something hot and dangerous we have all burned ourselves because we rushed and failed to take the necessary precautions beforehand.

      DM gives you freedom of movement, with it comes the responsibility of not sending your team into a wall or pit. It allows you to prepare you spells and with it comes the possibility of misfiring which is a fantastic metaphor of the "real-life" magic casting/preparing situation.

      You can now move freely but watch your step. You can now prepare your own weapons, but operate in a safe place. If anything, these should be put to the game's credit: they naturally arise from these new systems and are perfectly logical.

      I will always fail to understand why some players end up thinking that negative consequence of new systems should be rejected as game flaws when they actually ensure the game logical consistency and are as much a gameplay challenge as jumping head first into a monster fireball after misjudging one's distance to it.

    2. Would you also be so kind as to subscribe my previous comment to notifications? Thanks and apologies for polluting the thread with technicalities.

  18. I've always assumed that they were ninjas primarily because they threw weapons; most of the game's experience for that class comes from throwing knives, bombs, shuriken...weapons like bows don't come until relatively late in the game. If the missile combat was limited to bows/crossbows (or at least the throwing was minimized in favor of bows), then they might have called it the "archer" class. But since you can pick up an object and throw it with two clicks (not even using the character interface), most of the class skill comes from thrown weapons. This seems very much like a ninja, to me. "Thief" would have the baggage of expecting to steal things/pick locks/move silently...none of which exist in this game. "Assassin" has similar table-top and previous CRPG baggage of expecting to use stealth and poison, which aren't really part of this either (unless you count the VEN bombs and DES VEN/OH VEN spells, which are priest and wizard skills, respectively). To each their own, of course, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a class title that would fit the skills exhibited better than ninja.

    Running into walls: while you could just play the game with the mouse, it worked best doing movement with the keyboard and manipulating objects/runes with the mouse. So one would rarely hit the walls except in cases where the party was running full-tilt away from some hideous monster (a bunch of rats or a scorpion, for instance) down a twisting corridor. In that situation, one could hit the wall pretty easily, which for me felt like role-playing: the characters were getting clumsy in their exhaustion (literally if the stamina was down to zero) and desperation.

    Hard-to-spot objects: there's a spot on level 1 (level 2 if you count the Hall of Champions as level 1) where the first iron key is used, and it's found on the floor of a small chamber. If the light that the party is using is fully bright, the iron keys are nearly invisible in the grey tones of the floor. The first time I played the game, back in 1987, my party nearly starved to death trying to find something to open the door (I assumed it was a key, though I came to doubt that assumption after a while). In the end I didn't find it until I'd run out of torches and let my FUL spells diminish: then I could see the metal glinting in the dim lighting. Later in the level, where you have to bash the door, I had to skip that part of the dungeon because I couldn't figure out where the keyhole was, let alone the key. It was only later, in pitched combat, that I threw a club after a barrage of daggers, that the mummies expired and the club flew through the space they'd occupied and punched through the door, that I realized I could demolish as well as open more traditionally.

    Finally: the IBM PC (DOS) port of this game wasn't released until *1993*, six years after the original game, and four years after it was released on the other PC platforms. This is why, for many gamers, they consider Dungeon Master to be a copy of Eye of the Beholder, and not the other way around. The people who really loved the game are the ones who played it on Atari (1987) or Amiga (1989), when it was still relatively fresh.

  19. I remember playing this in the mid 90's and not liking it. I think this was because I was fresh off playing more advanced games like Arena and Ravenloft (which used a similar interface but was a better game), and DM was a step back at that point.

    But now that I'm revisiting this through the blog, I can see how groundbreaking DM was. I loved Dungeon Hack and Ravenloft, and both of them borrowed a lot from this game. It spawned a LOT of imitators. There had to be dozens of games which looked like this, that came out in the early 90's - console as well as PC.

    Unfortunately I happened to play the imitators first. I'd have been impressed if I'd played this in 1989.

    1. I agree. Reading my Dungeon Master postings now, I see that I didn't quite play it with the right frame of reference or appreciation for historical context. If I hadn't rushed so quickly through the 1980s because of my "DOS only" rule, I would have hit this game much later and appreciated it much more.


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