Dungeon Crawl

Dungeon Maker has the core right, but there's still room for improvement.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 25, 2007
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I've never been so addicted to a game that deep down I knew wasn't that good. There's just something about the way Dungeon Maker saddles you with a ton of options for expansion and juuuuust when you're about to put the game down, it opens up something new; a quest, a new piece for your dungeon, a recipe for new food. The constant baiting was almost enough to keep me from realizing I'd spent literally hours building my dungeon with very, very little to show for it.

The story (if it even counts as that), has you, the player, arriving in town where he's plunked down some cash for a nearby cave rife with the chance to entice monsters -- including the Wandering Demon, which apparently is the ultimate trophy for dudes who like to create their own dungeons, wait for monsters to move in, and then run around killing them all. It's almost cruel, y'know?

The town that The Architect (yes, that's really your character's name) settled into is populated by a handful of interesting types. There's the chipper shopkeeper, there's a corpulent buyer who always seems to have money for the endless shields and bracelets and bits of armor you'll bring here, there are twin sisters that always seem about two seconds from doing... something to anyone who comes to their door, an armorer/smithy, an effete museum curator, a carpenter and his daughter and a ghoulish dude heading up the apothecary. Oh, and there's a meek little princess who spends most of the game trying to say something and then running away.

You'll bump into these people daily, sometimes getting basic quests for stuff like rings or animal bits, but for the most part you're really only in town to sell off your crap, buy more parts for your dungeon and then head home for the daily meal (the ingredients of which will give you everything from health and magic bonuses to stat boosts depending on what you make). It's when morning comes and a night of heavy sleep has allowed all sorts of creepy crawlies to come in that the game gets interesting... for a while.

When you finally duck into your little cave, 20 floors of DIY dungeon building await you, but it's not enough to just build a bunch of corridors and wait for goblins to move in. There are rules one must follow. Don't build rooms to close to the entrance, make your dungeon as maze-like as possible, put certain rooms near the edges of the dungeon space, don't put doors so close to certain kinds of corridors. The list of dos and don'ts is impressive, and it's arguably the strongest part of Dungeon Maker's appeal.

Though you're never actually told why your dungeon is doing well, as the score for each floor goes up, the monsters grow more dense and more powerful, and the loot they drop more interesting. The idea is to get the place cozy enough that all manner of things that go bump in the night will move in, at which time the floor will be ready for a massive antechamber where a particular quest monster will appear and you're gifted with the means to go down a floor. And so the process begins, with an incredibly simple interface for laying the twisting, meandering hallways of your underground lair allowing you to place right angles and double-back corridors alike wherever you please.

Ah, but just laying out a bunch of rooms and hallways isn't enough. You have to make them pretty. If the requirements for getting good monsters weren't numerous enough, you also have the ability to take an existing room, from small to honkin' and turn it into a very specific space. Maybe it's a storage room, maybe it's an altar, maybe it's a fountain. Maybe you want to skin all of the corridors in rock instead of dirt floors. By game's end, you'll have a good dozen plus things you can plunk down on a given floor -- some of which can only be used on a specific floor -- and plenty of opportunity for monsters to come hang out. Eventually you'll learn what rooms lure in what kinds of monsters, but there's quite a bit of trial and error involved at first.

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