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.