Thursday, January 28, 2021

Game 398: Dungeons of Doom (1990)

Dungeons of Doom
Independently developed and published
Released 1990 for DOS
Date Started: 21 January 2021
Date Ended: 22 January 2021
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy (2/5) 
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 31/404 (8%)
Dungeons of Doom is a simple game that lasts a short amount of time. The only reason it lasts even a few hours is because you can get stuck (more in a bit). Part of me wants to be critical, but honestly, it's not like the game begged me to play it. Indeed, it seems to have done everything possible to hide itself from my attention. I couldn't find it when I first passed through 1990. No less than three people later sent it to me. They had to drag it kicking and screaming out of obscurity. Even when it was new, I can't see any evidence that the creator charged for it.
The game begins with no character creation.
The game is a first-person dungeon crawler that takes place in a dungeon of three levels. Your goal is to find the "Cup of Eternal Life." You start with three characters named Xenior, Pladon, and Godran. The first two seem to be fighters, though they have different icons. Godran is a mage and the only one with mage points. Strength serves as both strength and hit points. You have no inventory when you start. As you explore, you find swords, axes, shields, keys, and nine different magic spells. You battle mummies on the first level, skeletons on the second, and "Lords of Darkness" on the third. Then you find the cup and the game is over.
Early in the game, we find a key.
I rated it "easy" because it's so short and you can save anywhere, but there are a couple of things that make it challenging. First, there are more locked doors than there are keys to open them, at least on the first level. You can easily trap yourself with no ability to progress downward. (On Level 3, you finally get the "Open Door" spell just in time to encounter no more locked doors.) I had to restart twice because of this issue.

Second, combat is slightly challenging. It's a bit like a crude Dungeon Master, occurring in real-time, with the ability to see enemies in the environment. Individual enemies aren't hard, but you tend to get attacked by waves of them, and neither their own hit points nor the damage they do is consistent. Sometimes that Lord of Darkness might have 5 hit points, hit you for 3 damage, and die in one round, and sometimes he might have 50 hit points, hit you for 40 damage, and wipe out the party. Since your only attack option is A)ttack, there isn't much strategy at first, but once the mage has a variety of spells, there are more things you can do. A "Strength" and "Magic Shield" combo did a lot for me, and "Fireball" reliably wipes out enemies if you don't mind all the experience going to Godran. You otherwise get experience with every successful attack.
All the first-level enemies are mummies.
One saving grace is that enemies can only attack you if you're looking at them. If you turn to the side and shout, "I can't see you! I can't see you!," they can't advance into your square. Since strength (health) and magic points regenerate as you pass time with invalid actions, it's possible to turn against a wall, ram into it for a few minutes, and fully regenerate before turning and fighting the next enemy. Oh, and if a character dies, he can be revived with a simple "Heal" spell.
Skeletons are the foes on Level 2.
I never really understood the weapons. You find several axes and swords, and every character can carry multiples of each. I don't know if carrying more than one sword, or an axe plus a sword, does more damage than just having one weapon. The game doesn't last long enough to worry about.
Does two swords and one axe do more damage than just one sword?
Leveling is also a bit of a mystery. I didn't reach Level 2 (which doubled my strength and magic) until halfway through the third dungeon level. I won the game before reaching Level 3. Did the developer originally plan for a longer game? Who knows.
The first dungeon level is huge, occupying coordinates up to 27 x 58 (though with "worm tunnel" walls). Mapping becomes easier when you find the "Position" spell. I didn't bother to map the second level, but I think it was about half the size of the first. The third occupied coordinates only up to 14 x 31. You find a "Map" spell on the third level that brings up a surprisingly advanced automap. The level is shaped like a skull, and it's pretty easy to find the cup. Once you find it, the game is over.
That's how I want more games to end: "Yeahh."
What else can I tell you? There's no sound except for little squeaks when you cast a spell and little crunches as you fight. There are no NPCs and no economy. There's a composition of sorts that plays over the title screen, but I don't think anyone's going to be adding it to a playlist. Though created by a German and coming with German instructions, everything in-game is in English. There are buttons for every action, but they all have keyboard backups that make sense in English (e.g., A)ttack, C)ast, SHIFT-S)ave).
That's all I can tell you. You want a GIMLET? I suppose I have room for it:
  • 0 points for the game world. There's no description of it.
  • 1 point for character creation and development. You might level up once.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes. There are foes.
Lords of Darkness prowl Level 3.
  • 2 points for magic and combat, for reasons above.
Late in the game, I have a full set of spells.
  • 1 point for equipment, as above.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Almost all of that is for the interface, which is very easy to use and has that neat automap. The graphics are at least functional.
Check out the "Map" spell. It annotates everything.
  • 2 points for gameplay. It gets that for being short.
That's a final score of 12, pretty miserable even for a freeware game. But I'll try to go out on a positive note. While I didn't love this game, I think that the creator, Arndt Hasch, showed promise as a programmer. There's a core of a potentially good game here. Some low-rated games need to be re-hauled, but this one just needs to be expanded; its problem is simplicity rather than incompetence. There are a few honestly impressive things. The spell system is well-balanced. The automap is better than what we see in a lot of commercial games. And in 1990, not even Wizardry, the Gold Box series, and Might and Magic had yet figured out how to show enemies in the environment. Even the graphics show some promise, particularly how defeated enemies dissolve in front of you. Finally, if he was going to make a simple game, let's give him a hand for not making it 20 levels.
My map of Level 1.
Three years later, Hasch programmed an adventure game called Der Schatz im Silbersee ("The Treasure in Silver Lake") set in the American West. It looks a lot like a point-and-click Sierra game, and it's very attractive. Unfortunately, that's his only other game credit that I can find, although one site claims that he wrote a "DOS music tracker for Adlib soundcards" for Rainbow Arts.
Thanks to Lance, David, and "BillBull" for sending me the game. BillBull managed to Twitch about it for like six hours last year. I assume he had to restart a few times because of the keys.


  1. I have to say I got a very good laugh at granting one GIMLET point for "There are foes".

    Out of curiosity, what does the "Disable" spell do? You didn't mention needing it for world interaction so I'm assuming some kind of combat spell?

    1. That's a good question. I got it late and never cast it. I'd have to start over to try it out, so I think it will have to remain a mystery unless another player happens along.

  2. You probably discovered this, but Der Schatz im Silbersee appears to have been a German western movie before it was a game. I wonder if the game was a licensed product.

    1. I thought the title sounded familiar - I remember reading it and other western books of the same series in my childhood (I'm 43 years old now, from Finland).

      Had to check, Karl May was the author and the book was published already in 1891 (according to Wikipedia). Maybe the German readers of this blog could give some more information, if you don't mind the off-topic.

    2. Karl May is a popular German adventure novel author from the 19th century. Der Schatz im Silbersee is one of his most well known books, but he wrote a lot of them, often set in the Wild West with recurring characters. Not sure if they needed a licence since the book is so old, but apparently the publisher of Karl Mays books did some script work for the game.

    3. Karl May is or rather was very famous here in Germany, you could say that male German children up to perhaps the 1980s have almost all read at least one of his books if they were into reading at all. As a child of the 80s I have done so myself. Many of his books were made into Kraut movies in the 60s. An interesting thing for me is, since written in the 19th century the books don't come across as typical western stories, they are written from the perspective of a German traveler having adventures in (especially for German readers here then) far away and alien lands. The movies on the other hand feel like cliché western or copies of their American antetypes.

    4. Correction: here then should be back then

    5. I almost forgot to mention, there's even an annual western show in his name called Karl May Spiele in the town of Bad Segeberg.

    6. Btw "Der Schatz im Silbersee" was filmed at the Plitvice lakes. very beautiful and Worth a visit.

    7. How has no one coined the term "bratwurst western" for German-made films set in the American west?

    8. Spätzle Western, if you want to keep it in the pasta territory.

      For some reason, despite being German movies based on a German book series, the main characters are played by an American (Lex Barker) and a Frenchman (Pierre Brice).

    9. There are lots and lots of German-made westerns, many of them based on Karl May stories. Some oriental adventures of Karl May's have also been turned into films. They're all pretty solid adventure movies. They never gained as much international fame as their Italian counterparts, but they were very popular in Eastern Europe.

      Thanks to Karl May's Winnetou stories, Germans were really really fascinated with American Indians in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. (German uses different words for Indians from India (=Inder) and Amerindians (=Indianer) btw)
      There were hobbyist groups that dressed up as Indians and tried to recreate the Indian lifestyle in weekend camps. They were especially popular in the GDR. Groups like that probably still exist, but it's not as big a craze anymore as it was 40 years ago.
      Germans of the late 19th and early 20th century were very interested in their ancient culture and they saw a certain kinship with American Indians, because ancient Germanics were organized as tribes too. The whole "noble savages in touch with nature" image was very appealing to a large part of society around the turn of the century. Coupled with the popularity of Karl May's books, this led to the huge "Indianthusiasm" of the 20th century.

      Most of Karl May's westerns focus on a German adventurer named Old Shatterhand who is close friends with the Apache chief Winnetou, and they often have adventures together. The Indians are therefore usually the good guys (at least the Apaches are).

    10. Very interesting JarlFrank. Thanks for the info.

    11. Oh, wow. I originally missed Buck's comment that HE was from the 19th century, or I thought it referred to his stories. He lived from 1842 to 1912. He wrote about The West when The West was actually happening. There aren't even many American authors who did that.

    12. The obligatory trivia: Karl May traveled to America only very late in his life, and wrote these stories without every being in the Wild West (or outside Germany, when he started Winnetou).

    13. And there is also an additional german author who wrote around the same time such wild West stories: Friedrich Gerstäcker. And He in contrast to May visited the countries (especially the US) where his stories were set.

  3. For what it is, this is an impressively built game engine which it appears, could simply do with a few more levels and at the very least, an expanded bestiary.

    When you've queried the possible benefit of wielding/possessing multiple weapons, does that mean you acquire equipment, but don't actually have the means to equip it?

    I noticed in the screenshots it says what weapon you've struck with. Does this mean a character may strike with both an axe and sword in the same combat round?

    1. I don't see what's so impressive about the engine: it seems to do what The Bard's Tale did five years earlier. Showing two map squares ahead in 3D view is not rocket science.

    2. "It seems to do what The Bard's Tale did five years earlier." To be fair, The Bard's Tale didn't have an integrated exploration/combat environment in which enemies moved around and you could see them approach. That approach, instead of "trash mobs" that just attack randomly when you step into a square, seemed to elude a lot of developers well into the 1990s.

    3. "Does this mean a character may strike with both an axe and sword in the same combat round?" Good point. Since the text only mentions one weapon, perhaps that's a good sign that there's no benefit to multiple weapons.

  4. I mean, I'd rather play this low rated game that only lasts a few hours than some marginally higher rated games that last much, much longer but just end up being frustrating before you even reach the halfway point.

    1. Amen... get to the point. The same can be said for the bloated multi-sequel epics you see in books and movies. Make it taut. Make it END.

    2. When it comes to fantasy books I have developed a hard to satiate taste for standalones. Sadly, most fantasy books out there aim to go for at least trilogies. Standalones are great because I can read one book and then hop onto another. With trilogies I feel like I have to finish the trilogy.

      But standalones are such a rarity on the market! And even when I find one, the ending usually leaves enough open to set up a sequel.

    3. Always was a bummer to find a cool looking series in a bookstore only to realize they have books 3, 5, and 8.

  5. Strange what obscure little games survive the decades.

  6. I played this game back in the 90s when I got it on a shareware disk. When I remembered it a few years ago, I suggested it to you to add to your list. However, I wasn't able to find a copy online back then.

  7. There is something really charming about these painfully 2D monsters. The mummy looks like you have just scared her and she is eager to surrender.

    1. In the DLC we find out that those are elven maidens in full-body exfoliating citrus wraps and YOU were the monsters the entire time!

  8. Does two swords and one axe do more damage than just one sword?

    I'm picturing the party eagerly taping all the weapons together into a medieval multi-blade razor. You take one swing, it hits for six!

    1. Well, I'm picturing Zorro from One Piece.

    2. Swordchucks, yo!

    3. I believe that's an actual weapon in Dungeons of Dredmore.

    4. The crafting system in Two Worlds works kinda like this: you put five crappy swords together and get one slightly less crappy sword as a result.

    5. I always thought it was cool how TW gave you an actual use for all of the generic garbage weapons you find lying around, when in any other RPG they're just clutter that gets in the way.

      Shame about, you know, the entire rest of that game.

    6. The Two Worlds way of stacking weapons to make better ones was pretty useless until you got to the city with the dead army of orcs. If you spend a couple of hours collecting the free crappy swords from the seemingly thousands of already dead orcs you can smash them all together and create the greatest weapon in the entire game. It's not a great RPG, but it does get sort of fun when you realize how broken it can be.

  9. Skeletons normally come off as goofy (and double that if they're wearing any kind of clothing or armour), but these ones being gray gives them an unsettling feeling, like these were actual corpses that decayed long enough to be only skeletons, unburied and covered in god-knows-what - ash or mildew?

  10. Reading about this game reminded me of the time when I started coding an CRPG, probably after playing Eye of the Beholder. I did not accomplish much, but this is pretty much how the game would have been in end. All the programing is there, but no game design, story, real graphics, or inspiration. It is a strange feeling to see that someone else completed the programming "exercise" I had in mind.


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