Dungeon Master is a legendary game that brought role playing games to a new level and defined “dungeon crawler” games genre. Come with me into the world claustrophobic mazes and endless dungeons, and remember at the end is always a reward.
I hid in the chamber, calming my rapid breath. I just finished fighting Stone Crawlers, my team is exhausted, and one of my warriors is poisoned …
I just heard louder steps coming from behind the wall … someone’s coming! Am I ready for a next battle? Or perhaps I simply hide myself? Suddenly! The door to the chamber opened and a mysterious person that emerges from the door is … my mom…shouting! – “Dominik! It’s 3am and you have school tomorrow, so turn off your Amiga right now and go to bed!” Yes, this was the kind of battle I could never win, but the next day I would launch Dungeon Master again, and again I would stay until early morning hours, walking between the narrow walls of a dungeons…That’s how I remember my first meeting with the godfather of all “dungeon crawlers”.
“Dungeon crawler” is a type of game in which the player seeing the world from the first person perspective, commands a group of heroes and explores narrow labyrinths, always moving up one space in a given direction and fights with various enemies that inhabit these dungeons. The goals are usually the same, and player has to perform one of two tasks: to get out of the labyrinth or defeat super-evil boss that dwells somewhere at the end of the maze. And these are precisely two tasks that we have to complete in Dungeon Master – first, we have to get out of the dungeon and we must confront and defeat … The Lord of Darkness. That’s it when it comes to the story of the game.
Dungeon Master, was released in 1987 by FTL Games. The game was originally released for Atari ST, but shortly it became the most popular title available on the platform, selling up to 40,000 copies in the first year. Almost exactly same version of the game was released for Amigas in 1988. However, when creating Amiga version, the developers realized that they would not be able to make the Amiga version of the game, which would operate at 512kb memory only, they had to take the hard decision and require 1MB of memory in order to launch the game. By making this decision, FTL Games created one of the very first games with this kind of limitation for the players. Luckily, the game had already established an extensive fan-base, so the sales didn’t suffer too much, and in addition, the game boosted sales of memory extensions for Amiga, helping in making this a golden standard among the users. Interesting story – one of the producers of memory chips back in the days, the company called “Tecno” decided to create a bundle where by buying their memory extension, players were getting the game for free. Also, it is worth mentioning that by using extra memory, the creators decided to expand sounds in the game, by adding 3D sound effects to the game, so players could hear from what direction the enemies were approaching! This is something that was not available on Atari ST.
Ok, the game itself. As mentioned, in the “dungeon crawlers” players experience in-game world from a first person perspective. Our first task, just after crossing the gates of the maze in Dungeon Master is to go through the “Hall Of Fame”, a chamber full of special machines with the souls of the heroes trapped inside. From the 24 available characters, player can choose four characters that will become their team. Like in classic tabletop RPG’s each hero represents a different class, we can pick between: mages, barbarians, thieves, priests and even ninjas. After selecting the team, we enter the network of endless mazes and tunnels. During our trip we will have to take care of the whole team, by providing them with food and a good sleep, we must also remember about torches that will light up our way through the dungeons. Managing the team isn’t too difficult thanks to the very clear and friendly access to each heroes stats and inventory. Equally easily we can change the order or weapons of our team. The only thing that can cause some problems is the spell system. It is actually pretty interesting and it really allows players to feel like a real mage, but at the same time is super difficult because it requires players to memorize the sequence of special runes, which, if used in the correct order will allow to cast the right spell. Unfortunately, once the spell is used it won’t appear on any list, etc. So to cast it again players will need to click on the runes again. It is particularly difficult to manage when in the middle of a battle, where instead of casting a healing spell, you cast a spell that gives the team magic torch. Or instead of the huge and beautiful fireball spell that could finish the battle, we cast the spell that increases the agility of the team member. So having a quick-pick list of available spells can be a pain, but on the other hand I understand the decision of the developers, as they wanted to introduce a system that would allow players to experiment with spells.
When it comes to the fights. The combat is mini turn-based, although the fact that all fights are based on the sequence is completely invisible. This is due to the dynamics of each battle, during the fight we are in constant motion, we can circle the enemy or try to block them in a place where it will be easier for us to fight, for example we can trap enemies between the doors and crush them. We just have to remember that we fight in the maze and sometimes we can end up in the goat corner with a horde of enemies attacking us. AS for the movement, attacks and casting spells is also turned based but the fights are so quick that the turn-base element is barely noticeable here.
The graphics and sound of the game are very average, the textures of the dungeon walls do not change throughout the whole game. So our progress through the game can be noticed not thanks to the surrounded dungeon, but thanks to the more difficult enemies that stand on our way. The good thing is that the enemies look really good and are diversified. The army of the Lord of Darkness consists of Dragons, Crawling Stones, huge broods, mummies and other abominations!
We won’t experience any music through the whole game, the only sound we hear is the sound of our steps or spooky spider creaks behind the walls, telling us that the enemy is nearby. During the fight, of course, we can hear the sounds of the sword clashes or fireballs.
Despite the poor graphic and sound, the game makes up for great gameplay mechanics, cool and diverse monsters and interesting puzzles that we encounter on our way to defeat the Dark Lord. The truth is that every self-respecting fan of computer RPGs and fantasy genre will have to play Dungeon Master at some stage, even just to meet with the godfather of “dungeon crawlers”. And after that once you fell in love with this game genre, you have to play Dungeon Master sequels (Chaos Strikes Back and Dungeon Master II) and after that, if you want to go deeper into dungeon crawlers you have to try Eye of the Beholder series, Ishar trilogy and many many others.