Disclaimer: the term “dungeon crawler” may have a different meaning to you than it has to me. For me dungeon crawlers are different from hack-and-slash games and don’t rely too much on reflexes. This post is just my “brain dump”, shared with you if you’re interested. Feel free to discuss!
I always liked dungeon crawler games. The first one I played was Dungeon Master. It’s been released in 1987. Legend of Grimrock, released in 2012 is another game I enjoyed; it has beautiful graphics and interesting puzzles. It isn’t really much different from its predecessor though. The introductory post on its developer’s blog points at Dungeon Master as its inspiration, among others: Eye of the Beholder, Ultima Underworld and Arx Fatalis.
Both of these games got me hooked for hours.
Negating a dungeon crawler
There’s a number of common mechanics present in dungeon crawlers:
- Exploring a dungeon that has multiple levels, riddled with secret locations
- Controlling a party of characters or less often a single character
- Collecting equipment and gearing up his party or character
- Solving puzzles to progress through the game
- Melee and ranged combat, plus magic
- Improving the party or character’s stats
All of the above are present both in Dungeon Master and in Legend of Grimrock. There’s a gap of a quarter of a century between these games. I’ll have a short look at all the elements and will try to negate what’s done usually in dungeon crawler games like.
Usually, the dungeon is hand-made by the game designer, the mobs, items and puzzles are carefully placed, a careful difficulty progression is clear. The designer holds the player’s hand at the beginning and lets it go as the player progresses through the game.
Contrary to this, roguelike games generate dungeons randomly, and every play through is different.
Party or a Character
Usually, there is a party that cooperates on a common goal or a character pursuing a larger quest. The party is controlled by a single player.
Contrary to this, the party may cooperate but it may be controlled by multiple players like in Hired Guns, or multiple players may control multiple independent characters, each pursuing its own agenda.
Usually, the items are designed by the authors, and placed in proper spots on the map. As everything is known about every weapon in the game, progression is ensured through the game.
Contrary to this, items can be generated randomly or semi-randomly, like in hack-and-slash games such as Diablo. The items characteristics are random, they may affect the game in different ways, such as by enabling abilities or dealing extra damage.
Usually, the designers put the puzzles on the map and offer clues to solve them. This guarantees every prerequisite to solving a puzzle is available before the puzzle is found and needs to be solved.
Contrary to this… I can’t think of a notable example. There is one way to generate puzzles dynamically, but I don’t think these would be very original – a procedural puzzle is just like Sudoku – once you know how to solve one, you know how to solve them all. Here’s an interesting article by Sean Howard about building puzzle trees.
Usually, the right types of enemies are placed where they can be defeated – the dumbest and the weakest near the beginning of the game, the smartest and the toughest near the end. It ensures the player will always have both a challenge and a chance to win it.
Contrary to this, the mobs may be placed randomly, both picking their type and place. Again, I can’t think of a game that does this on a pure chance, there is always a difficulty bracket the mobs have to fit in. The Binding of Isaac places mobs randomly, with good result, although sometimes “unfair”.
Usually, the stat system is based on Dungeons and Dragons or a similar role-playing system. Characters have their specialties or classes and these affect their base abilities. The abilities may be improved by gaining experience. This works really well, as it’s a very understandable and flexible approach.
Contrary to this, there are open-skill systems, and you can compare the two yourself. Personally I prefer open skill systems as I don’t like to limit my choices for character development.
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