Friday, July 23, 2021

BRIEF: Dungeon (1993)

 
You get the backstory in a text bubble on the main screen.
        
Dungeon
United Kingdom
Independently developed; released through Budgie UK.
Released 1993 for Atari ST
     
If I wasn't rejecting it because it isn't an RPG, I might reject it based on its name. The last thing the world needs, particularly as late as 1993, is yet another game called Dungeon. To Google it, you have to do something like:
   
"Dungeon" "1993" "Atari ST" -"Reaping the" -"Dungeon Master" -"Dungeon Hack"
   
And you still get a lot of dross.
   
If not for the title, I would probably reject it for its all-mouse control scheme, which is a lot worse than "all-mouse" suggests by itself. But more on that in a minute.
      
Beware how boring it is.
   
Dungeon was the creation of London-based T. C. Basset, who had previously created a strategy game called Overlord using the same creation kit. That kit was Talespin by Mark Heaton, published by MicroDeal in 1988. It's meant for adventure games with a fair amount of text and dialogue, without much regard for combat. To make a dungeon crawler out of it, Basset had to essentially model combat as a violent "dialogue," complete with clicking options in text boxes.
    
For the graphics, Basset turned to the Fantasy Graphics Disk from Deltronics, created specifically for the engine, published in 1991. One might assume that with an engine from one kit and graphics from another kit, Basset would simply offer the game as freeware, but instead he charged £6.99 for the game and £9.99 for the game plus a manual. The only versions I was able to find are demo versions.
    
Whether to attack aggressively or defensively is the only choice you really make.
    
The quest is given on the title screen by Shaa, "Keeper of the Crypt and centre-forward for Gillingham." You're to explore the dungeon, defeat Malik Abdul Aziz the Necromancer, and recover the Great Orb of Thoth. This makes me wonder if Arab RPG developers name their villains things like "Peter Cunningham." You choose from warrior, fighter, cleric, mage, and thief classes, which are differentiated solely by their starting equipment; for instance, warriors get a sword while clerics begin with cloth armor and a healing potion.
  
You open the door to a very linear dungeon and immediately begin encountering monsters. Every move, every choice, every combat round is followed by a few seconds of loading while "zzz..." appears on the screen. This is even true if you set the emulator to 400%. Everything involves a billion clicks.  You have to click on messages even when you have no choice. To fight, you have to click on one button to make an "aggressive attack" or a "defensive attack," then wait a couple of seconds. Then, you have to click on the sword icon to see the results of your attack, and acknowledge it by clicking on the message. Then you have to click on the shield icon to see the results of your defense, and acknowledge the message by clicking on it. You do the sword and shield again. Every click has a pause for a couple of second after it.
     
I love the insignia on the skeleton's shield.
  
After combat, you find a chest. This is how you open a chest: 1) Click on the "hand" icon, which causes a bubble to appear telling you how much the chest has. 2) Click "Get gold" in that same window. 3) Click on the same hand icon to now get a message that the chest is empty. 4) Click "Click here to continue." 5) Click the arrow on the GTFO panel to go back to the main dungeon screen. Why couldn't the author just have the image of a chest appear with words indicating how much gold you've found, and then automatically take you back to the dungeon window, no clicking required?
      
Why do I have to click "get gold"? Is there some reason I wouldn't take it?
   
In addition to gold, you can find potions and scrolls in chests. Potions heal you; scrolls instantly kill monsters.
      
The first dungeon is only about a dozen forward steps and four combats. Then some stairs bring you up to a town, where you can have a drink in the tavern, spend your gold at the armory, or deposit it in the bank. If you're extremely wounded, a helpful woman in a chainmail bikini shows up to give you a healing potion. You have to speak to the bartender to get access back to the dungeon.
     
It turned out that these prices were meaningless, as we'll see.
       
I don't know if every dungeon trip is randomized or if they proceed in a specific order, but generally it's just a straight corridor with one or two T-junctions. Eventually, you always come to a stairway back up to town. In a couple hours of playing, I never found anything but combats with the same four monsters: skeletons, murderous thieves, vampire bats, and zombies. 
   
What the game lacks is any kind of character development system. You have no attributes, no levels, no experience. The only way you get better is to find better equipment or to find more gold and buy it. Even that doesn't really seem to work, as after I bought some leather armor, nothing I did would get the blacksmith to take my money for anything else. I kept trying to buy shields, armor plating, and weapon improvements, but the game just acted like it did something and no money was subtracted from my purse and my character portrait never changed. Maybe that's because it's a demo version.
      
You can view your character in town. Nothing ever change no matter what else I tried to buy.
      
Anyway, it fails my definition of an RPG twice over. There's no character development, and combat is based solely on equipment and luck. It's basically a group of nice fantasy images strung together with a minimum of mechanics. I'm grateful I can reject it, because after a couple of hours, my hand hurts from all this clicking.

39 comments:

  1. The intro text is so full of nonsense in so few paragraphs

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    Replies
    1. Over 100 years ago, William Strunk Jr. wrote, "Do not affect a breezy manner."

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  2. The graphics are alright. I wouldn't feel bad about paying money for the game, canned assets and all, if it were any good. I doubt there's been a masterpiece made with a clip art CD yet, but the optimist in me says that it's possible--even imminent.

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    Replies
    1. There's some not bad games made with Unity asset store packs, so that's close enough.

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    2. I do really like the graphics as well.
      They look both semi-amateurish, yet crafty, and rather consistent in style (what should we call it? "pinball machine-art"? "haunted house fantasy"?). If it was a better game, the graphics would keep me going for quite a while, I'd imagine.

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  3. I kind of love that the chest is practically overflowing with gold and jewels to a degree that it would be impossible to even close the lid - yet all you find in there are 10 gold coins. Makes me imagine the hero having to dig elbow deep through foil-covered tat and glass baubles just to find a bit of pocket change. I guess the graphics disk didn't provide a simple stack of coins, then.

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    Replies
    1. Even better, a bat was somehow carrying that chest.

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  4. Man, I'm sure I have seen the title screen face in another game or picture but I just can't remember where exactly.

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    Replies
    1. I think it was used as menu on some pirate disk.

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    2. What I remembered was "Fiendish Freddy's Big Top O' Fun". But I think it's different enough to not count as a direct uhm.. influence, isn't it?

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  5. "And you still get a lot of dross."

    Even when you found what you were looking for.

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    Replies
    1. I chuckled angrily when I saw that a 1993 game was called 'Dungeon'.

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    2. Even better: looks like there's another 1993 game called 'THE Dungeon'.

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    3. Now we just need a game that calls itself "A Dungeon".

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    4. How many wannabe crpgs called 'Dungeon' are there exactly in total?

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    5. Should we count games that use synonyms or words erroneously thought to be synonyms for the word "Dungeon"?

      Looking at you, Oubliette.

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    6. Watch out for the sequel, it’s Dungeon Too.

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    7. Given how much programmers like to stick it in front of names, I'm sure there's "Yet Another Dungeon" out there.

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    8. That terrible pun made me chuckle, Tristan.

      Mostly because it reminds me of one of my favorite sword & sorcery B-movies, Deathstalker 2.

      In the intro, the protagonist steals a jewel from an evil sorceress, and as he jumps out of the window and rides away, the camera zooms in on her and she says: "I'll have my revenge, and Deathstalker too!"

      Then they show the movie's title: Deathstalker II

      It's so terrible that it's good. Amazing B-movie, it's entirely self-aware and full of humor.

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    9. You just inspired me to look up that opening scene on YouTube. If you'd asked me yesterday, I would have said that the world is ripe for a revival of 80's sword-and-sorcery flicks like Beastmaster, Deathstalker, and The Sword and the Sorcerer. After watching that, I think it's best that we leave that genre dead and buried.

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    10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkPxZLWeTBg

      If anyone wants to watch it. I have a tough time understanding how acting and choreography could possibly be that bad.

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    11. They didn't even make the swords sound cool it sounds like to tincans rubbed together

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  6. Isnt the first screen text homophibic?

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    1. It hasn't age very well

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    2. I don't know if I'd go that far. It just seems like a stupid joke. I mean, the dude's sporting a gold hoop in his right ear. I suspect he knows how to fold a sweater.

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    3. In the UK that’s something which is pretty much said by quite bigoted people, the kind who thinks comedy never got better than Dads Army. So I’d say it is inherently homophobic even by 80s standards, though not as bad as some of the culture was here

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    4. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie did a sketch about that, and Fry is gay himself. You just gotta have a sense of humor instead of being easily offended. Life's much better that way.

      That said, the writing of this game - judging by these screenshots - isn't particularly good. The jokes are older than Gilgamesh and the tone is inconsistent.

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    5. Jarl, I’ve lived here my whole life - I know what cultural tone is - particularly during the 80s when homophobia was rife in British culture. Trust me that this was absolutely a homophobic remark in that context. Yes, Fry and Laurie also used it but mainly in a table turned kind of way - it’s about the context, dude.

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    6. I read that intro text as a mockery of Shaa, in that it positions him as an absurd caricature of "Back in my day..." types. I would think the line about "when wheels were square" is a dead giveaway. The Fry and Laurie sketch predates this game by six years, so it could easily have been the inspiration.

      I guess each of us has to decide for ourselves whether the programmer's biography is what legitimizes or delegitimizes an attempt at humor. (And in this case, the emphasis is on attempt.)

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    7. As a square I find the line about "when wheels were square" deeply offensive and squarophobic, and demand a public apology on Twitter.

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    8. Maybe we can avoid telling people to get a sense of humour or mocking them when they have (or observe) a problem with things.

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  7. I remember reading that early versions of the Windows operating system included games like Solitaire and Minesweeper to help unfamiliar users become proficient with using a mouse. Maybe this game was programmed with that purpose in mind?

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    Replies
    1. No Atari st had mause interface from the get go 8 years before this game was relead

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  8. "and combat is based solely on equipment and luck" To be fair that sounds like most turn-based RPGs I've played, old and new.

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  9. Julian Nicolas TreichelJuly 24, 2021 at 5:53 AM

    Pretty sure, Malik Abdul Aziz is an allusion to Abdul Alhazred, author of the Necronomicon

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    Replies
    1. Abdul aziz means servant of god, and, at least in history, has been a fairly common name, e.g. several Saudi rulers. It is transliterated in several differrent ways (abd al, abdal, abdel). Malik iirc means king.

      I don't know if alhazred means anything though, or if it's even correct.

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    2. That was the joke I was trying to make. "Malik Abdul Aziz" might sound exotic to western ears, but all three parts of the name are extremely common in Arab-speaking nations. It makes me wonder if common western names like "George Jones" sound exotically evil to Arabian ears.

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  10. Does anyone know if the contents of the Fantasy Graphics Disk by Deltronics were ever posted anywhere?

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