Classic Game of the Week - Dungeon Keeper

The recent release of Overlord II reminds me how fundamentally I enjoy playing the mirthful villain. A role I can never really take on in a game like KOTOR or Fallout where villainous actions tend to be sadistic or cruel in very concrete terms, the more whimsical and candy-coated my trip to the dark side, the happier I am.

This approach is defined by Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper, a classic PC game by any definition. I would have words with anyone who suggests that malevolence with comedic overtones has ever been quite so well explored. Pistols at dawn, I would say, and then in a very Dungeon Keeper fashion I would shoot them in the back, cackeling with glee as I waited for cavorting imps to drag their carcass to the graveyard. Casting the player in the role of an evil disembodied hand taked with creating an impervious and trap laden dungeon was, frankly, a stroke of genius. If I were to chart Peter Molyneaux’s career on graph paper, here is the mountain peak.

What helped to define and separate DK was that it did not put the player into the role of construction worker so much as architect. While creatures were not exactly autonomous, they would carry about their own mischief outside of direct intervention, even at times to the detriment of the player. The strategy of laying out an imposing and sophisticated dungeon became a critical foundation of the game, and one had to make sure that it was appropriately devised to serve many needs. At any moment, one had to manage their finances, make sure enemies were blocked out of sensitive areas, keep fighting minions separated and create easy access to key services. I suppose when you write it out like that, it can be hard to understand precisely why this is fun, but a dungeon shouldn't just be a big haphazard cavern. It should be a home; an evil home.

Embracing the pleasure of evil, and sometimes just taking a minute to slap an imp around for just no good reason at all, was a new and devilishly welcome exploration of gameplay. Though Bullfrog was folded a few years later and much of its staff sent to the pits to work on Harry Potter games (true) before the completion of DK 3, the original still stands apart, and is my Classic Game of the Week.

Comments

Evil is good

This was a truly fantastic game. They should make a new one that's all prettied up. Oh the fun to be had.

My daughter is wont to sit in her darkened room in the evening playing our old copy of DK II on her PC. Her hair is usually a rat's nest and she frequently can be heard cackling.

She worries me.

Yes.
This is another game that I didn't play until well after the developer had shut it's doors. A friend of mine was playing Evil Genius and described it as "kind of like Dungeon Keeper but with spies." when I told him I hadn't played DK he looked at me slack jawed for a while and shoved a copy of DK into my hands and told me to go home and install it. I didn't sleep that night and barely made it to work on time.

As with most bullfrog/lionhead games, the voiceover work is the best bit, shortly followed by slapping imps.

Was this the last bullfrog game?

I want a re-release or remake of this game. At the very least something that will run reliably under XP would be simply fantastic, because this is one of my favorite games of all time.

Totally. A remake of this would be absolutely amazing. I still remember quite a few years ago, I had a friend crashing at my house and he beat almost all of Dungeon Keeper II in one night. I remember him telling me the next day that around 3am, the voice came up and said "Do you know what time it is? GO TO BED!" That was hilarious.

I have a hat I got as swag just a little before the game was released. One of the few things from my time in gaming retail I've tried to hold onto. Of course, the fact I also DM makes the hat extra fun.

An awesome series. Just replayed DK2 last month and it really holds up.

God I keep hearing about this game, especially in reference to Evil Genius. Anyone know where I can find a copy of this and the DK2? I don't think any stores nearby carry it and to be honest, I can't remember the last time I actually bought a game on PC in actual cd format (No cash for a while, now I do all of my game purchases digitally). Any suggestions?

I have a hat I got as swag just a little before the game was released. One of the few things from my time in gaming retail I've tried to hold onto. Of course, the fact I also DM makes the hat extra fun.

The game was great. It is certainly high on the list of games I'd like to see a redone. I think the lower resolutions of the original would be frustrating if I tried to play it now.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

An awesome series. Just replayed DK2 last month and it really holds up.

Just installed it and ran in in compatibility mode? Did you have to jump through any hoops to get to play on a modern system?

What about slapping chickens? Or BEING a chicken in first person view and being able to do nothing. Quite a fun game. Why kill an opponent when you can capture and imprison them only to torture them later? I mean, that's terrible, why would you do that?

nukacola23 wrote:

Just installed it and ran in in compatibility mode? Did you have to jump through any hoops to get to play on a modern system?

None that I can remember. Mind you, my memory is notoriously faulty.

I'd like to play that again. Was that a DOS game? would DosBox do?

Anybody cares to try and make it run and give us the how-to?

This game was such a revelation when it came out. Its completely novel take on the RTS genre executed not only in game mechanics but also in style and presentation. I still have my original disk and the 3D patch somewhere, and intend to install and replay it at some point. I don't particularly enjoy playing evil, but I do enjoy good satire, and the game pokes all sorts of fun at high-fantasy canon.

The gameplay mechanics deserve particular mention. It's an RTS, but not like anything that had come before. The emphasis is on building tunnels and laying them with traps, in many respects similar to currently popular desktop tower defense games. The AI invades, trying to plunder your treasure so you are always playing a game of turtle.

I have the first Overlord, and enjoyed it for a couple weeks until it began to grind a bit. In a similar vein, Evil Genius just became available on Steam for $16 or so, and I intend to pick that up once my list of unplayed games shrinks a bit. Lastly, has anyone played Dungeon Keeper II? How does it compare to the original?

Arclite wrote:

, Evil Genius just became available on Steam for $16 or so

I just checked, it's 9.99. Since I heard it's like DK, I am going to buy it. Yep, DK was that good.

Beyond the obvious parallels with Evil Genius it also has a few things in common with Dwarf Fortress. Sadly all I seem to have left is the manual for the game and I really wish it would come out on GoG or Steam or even Gametap.

I loved this game. Despite not playing for years it brings back some of my fondest gaming memories for all those reasons mentioned and more.

For me, this was the first game I played that dynamically changed based on your _current_ real-life status by tracking your computer clock and calendar. Some examples that stand out for me are:

- If you were playing through midnight, the narrator would announce that: "It's midnight, the witching hour." (although I don't know if it did anything to the game)

- On nights with a full moon, a special section/dungeon area would become available with werewolves

- If you played for long stretches, the game would mock you. "You have now been playing for XX. Don't you have something you should be doing?"
One time, I swear, it said "In the other room is a large, rectangular device used for rest and recuperation. GO TO BED!" (actually yelling at me).

Absolutely brilliant.

Arclite- I never finished DKII. It is sitting right on my desk waiting for me to start again.... waiting.....

But, my memory of DK-II is that it although it had some cool differences from the first I didn't appreciate them all. The creatures and graphics were updated in fun ways, and the first-person takeover combat was a major improvement over DK1, but I recall feeling a lot more restricted in my dungeon building. The first one really felt like I had all the space in the world and planning a good layout was entirely up to me. The first several levels of DKII seemed to have many more geographical restrictions like water, un-mineable walls, and almost objectives to hit/reach.

Also, it seemed like they nerfed some of the minor details I really liked by negating some of the bonuses or negatives based on dungeon design. For instance, in the first version the wizards liked a library that was quiet. So, if you had it down a long hallway with thick walls away from other rooms, they would research spells faster. Research was slowed if it was one wall away from the training room or other creatures kept running through it - and the wizards got upset more, too. Trolls needed lots of food, and fast, so you'd better have a big nursery near their training room so they can train, eat, and get right back to training.

That kind of mechanic might have annoyed some but I thought such a level of detail, even so small, was just that much more fun.

On the bright side, you could build a casino in DK-II and if a minion hit the jackpot the entire dungeon stopped to dance to "Disco Inferno."

Loved this game, loved DK2 more.

I had high hopes for Startopia, by Mucky Foot, which was most of the guys from the developer, but it was basically unfinished and while it had the same UI and a narrator, which was very Hitchhikers Guide instead of evil, it lacked the spark of evil.

Burnt Toast wrote:

- If you played for long stretches, the game would mock you. "You have now been playing for XX. Don't you have something you should be doing?"
One time, I swear, it said "In the other room is a large, rectangular device used for rest and recuperation. GO TO BED!" (actually yelling at me).

Absolutely brilliant.

Yep this is one of my favorite gaming memories:
"You know that low, broad, downy-soft thing in the other room? GO TO BED!" or something close to it.

Loved this game.

The screaming heroes were just wonderful to kill.

DK2 is one of my all time favorite games.

It's been a major disappointment to me that the ideas and mechanics weren't further developed and explored in sequels and other games.

Startopia was just not quite right.

I had high hopes for Evil Genius, but it was uncomfortably difficult and it had some weird board game mechanics that just weren't fun.

Wow. First I install Ultima VII under DOSBox before the post last week, and then I tried to get DK or DK2 to run w/out a disk so I could play on my netbook (which I never accomplished). Now I am going to have to get it running on something.

The concept of DK really does sound gimmicky with it's whole "Evil is Good", but I think it really does a great job of holding up through the whole game.

Also, it can't be overstated that slapping was an important game mechanic. I seem to remember minions that would get unhappy if they weren't getting slapped enough.

Elysium is on fire with the CGOTW selections, I sure hope the GOG people are paying attention.

I played this game all the way to the final map but I could never beat that damn avatar.

Fantastic game! DK and DKII got me through a good bit of college.

drexle wrote:

Also, it can't be overstated that slapping was an important game mechanic. I seem to remember minions that would get unhappy if they weren't getting slapped enough.

Absolutely! Slapping them increased imps' speed, and the right amount kept them happy - but too many slaps in a row and "pop" - splash of blood and time to get a new one.

Great game, if DK2 lost some of the magic. Played it with my kid and it was still great. Wonder if someone has created a new texture pack or something, those graphics are hard on the eyes nowadays. Class is Peter Molenux. sic

I loved me some DK. Like most good games I played during that time period, it was a total surprise for me. I didn't pay much attention to gaming press, and there wasn't much on the internet yet. I used to just go to the store and buy what looked fun, and man alive was DK fun. I lost my copy somewhere along the line, during a move probably, and that makes me very sad.

Excellent choice here for Classic GOTW.