Well. What an unexpected pleasure. Only a few postings ago, I was lamenting that none of the recent games were really feeding my CRPG addiction. You know--taking my attention from work, making me ignore my wife and friends, keeping me up until the break of dawn. I missed that. I'm not saying Dungeon Master is that game--not yet--but it is a multi-character game set in a multi-level dungeon with strong graphics and sound, so it certainly has the potential. Oddly, I'd never heard of this game until a few weeks ago, when I noticed it was coming up in my queue. As I am occasionally reminded (Starflight, Phantasie) there are hidden treasures from this era awaiting discovery.
The back story to Dungeon Master is told in a well-written 18-page prologue to the game manual. The dungeon in question was the abode of the Grey Lord, an extremely powerful wizard who many people regarded as a god. One fateful day, the Grey Lord discovered beneath his mountain the Power Gem--the source of the creation of men, dwarves, halflings, elves and "High Lords"--and thought he would use it to usher in a new era of world peace. But something went wrong in the casting of the spell needed to extract it, and it ended up tearing the Grey Lord's essence into two halves: the benevolent "good" wizard, and Lord Chaos, bent on using the gem for the destruction of the world.
They Grey Lord's apprentice, Theron, was affected by the event because...I don't know...I guess he was psychically linked to the Grey Lord at the time, even though he was visiting his girlfriend in the next village. His spirit was cast into limbo, but there he received a message from the Grey Lord (now going, for some reason, by the name "Librasius"). In the years that had passed since the catastrophe, the Grey Lord had sent hundreds of champions into the dungeon with the quest to recover the Grey Lord's Firestaff, which would give the Grey Lord the power to assume corporeal form again and defeat Lord Chaos. Unfortunately, all the adventurers died. Now, the Grey Lord has tasked Theron with the task to resurrect four of those adventurers and guide them through the dungeon.
Sorry, but it takes a long time to summarize 18 pages.
Thus, although you control four heroes in the game, the player literally takes the role of the noncorporeal Theron, who guides their actions. If you've ever played a multi-player CRPG and wondered who "you" are supposed to be, since you can't be all of the party members at once, this game answers it for you. It's very meta.
The setup means that Dungeon Master has a unique party creation process, though. You don't really "create" your party--instead, your incorporeal essence wanders the Hall of Champions on the first level of the dungeon, reviewing the characteristics and equipment of each of the 24 heroes enshrined there, and choosing which you want for your adventure. You actually have two options: to "resurrect" the hero, with his attributes and skills intact, or to "reincarnate" the hero, which wipes his memory (and skills) and allows you to give him a different name. In the prologue, Theron expresses horror at this idea for its obvious ethical implications.
This is the first clue that perhaps the "good" half of the Grey Lord may not be all that good. I feel like the game is setting me up for a very obvious twist ending.
There are four character types: fighter, ninja, wizard, and priest. But characters can be multi-classed; at least one is all four classes. I really didn't have much of a basis for choosing except a desire to have some representation from all four
The game starts you off with a few disadvantages. First, you're limited to the equipment that your resurrected characters had upon death, which in my case wasn't much. Second, you have no idea which way you're facing in the dungeon. I'm not sure how you ever find this out. I just guessed for the purposes of the map. Third, you have no clue what the different spells are. Spells in this game are cast by stringing together glyphs. The game manual tells you the glyphs...
...but not in what order you must string them to achieve certain outcomes. Fortunately, you find scrolls along the way that give you hints. I've already determined that LO FUL gives a low-level light spell.
A couple of other random notes:
- This is one of several games in the era to require food. This is a good element in CRPGs for the realism value. Realism as in, "Hey, Leyla! Here's an ear of corn I found in a dank crevice on the sixth level of a dungeon! Tuck in!"
- Although the dungeons are made up of gridded tiles, the game occurs in real time, meaning if you just stand there, monsters will advance on you and kill you, your characters will get hungry, your spells and torches run out, and so on. As far as I can tell, there's no "pause" option--not even when you go to inventory. This makes mapping--and blogging--fairly difficult. [Later edit: Reader Menetekel clued me in that the ESC key pauses the game. Thanks!]
- Although you can move with the keypad, the mouse is most of the interface for the game. You have to click on various buttons on the screen to attack, manipulate objects, and access inventory.
Note the four attack icons--hand, club, arrow, and sling--on the right side. When I open this gate, I have to click these quickly in sequence to fight the mummy behind it.
Dungeon Master was originally published for the Atari ST in 1987; its DOS port came in 1989. The technical improvements over games like Might & Magic and Wizardry are obvious. It supports VGA graphics and sound cards like AdLib and SoundBlaster. (It is the first CRPG in my blog that uses a mouse, though it only gets this award because I'm playing in order of original release date, not DOS release date.) Finally, it takes advantage of (then-) modern CPU power and offers real-time, not turn-based, gameplay. It's quite startling, after the latest sequence of games, to start the application and be greeted with animated graphics, decent-quality audio, background music, and an unresponsive keyboard!
The publisher, FTL Games, never published anything but the Dungeon Master series and a 1984 adventure game called SunDog: Frozen Legacy. None of its games appear to have sold nearly as well as Dungeon Master, and the company disbanded in the early 1990s. I'll save discussions of Dungeon Master's legacy for my final posting on the game, except to note that if the Eye of the Beholder series didn't license Dungeon Master's interface, it sure ripped it off.
Tonight, I got Level 1 mapped (not hard because most of it was the Hall of Adventurers) and started to map Level 2, where after a fight with a mummy I was rewarded with some decent treasure. As I say, it definitely has promise. I'm going to make a return to Beyond Zork tomorrow and then see how addicted I can get to this new game.