Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Preview: Darklight Dungeon Eternity

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 1, 2011

Back in April Jesse Zoeller sent me an alpha link to his upcoming old-school style role-playing game, Darklight Dungeon Eternity. While it’s still an early build missing a lot of features (not to mention levels), I thought I’d share a little bit of my experiences about this upcoming title. Just bear in mind that this is based on an alpha still many months from completion, and so a lot can change between this version and the final release.

If you’ve played the first game, Darklight Dungeon, you will know what to expect. Darklight Dungeon: Eternity is a first-person perspective RPG that takes place inside a single, really big dungeon. Hearkening back to the old dungeon crawlers of the 80s and early 90s, the player is restricted to the four cardinal directions of movement. However, the dungeon is rendered with full-fledged 3D technology, including shader effects to make the water surfaces look nice, so it’s not quite like revisiting the past. As in the previous game, the detailing on the wall and floor geometry is a little on the plain and repetitive side. But there are a lot more objects in the dungeons to break up the monotony, so every room is generally unique in some way, making it easier to figure out where you are without necessarily checking out the in-game map.

The game is turn based, but with a time limit on turns. So if you just hang out in a patrolled corridor you will be attacked sooner or later. This doesn’t seem to apply in combat, fortunately, where you can take as long as you want.

Not all encounters are hostile. Some creatures begin the encounter willing to ignore you, allowing you to exit the encounter safely. At other times, escape comes with risk of failure (and repeat attacks by the enemy group). Early in the game, encounters are mostly with individual creatures, but later they more often appear in groups. Combat is still fairly straightforward, but the new game adds elements like blocking with your shield, and more strategic use of spells by both the player and the enemies.

Your character is classless – or as the Munchkin card game would say it, you have no class. Your character can both fight and use magic. Both are critical, as there are places in the dungeon where magic does not work, and places where only magic can harm your enemies. The game is both skill-based and level-based.  As you gain experience, you will gradually gain power by leveling, and gain points to increase your primary attributes.

Skills are increased by visiting the trainer in the village just outside the dungeon. This takes gold – and lots of it, as your skill levels increase.  So far as I can tell, your skills aren’t limited by your level (but that may be simply that I can’t earn money fast enough to hit the caps). Most skills simply give you incremental bonuses to your effectiveness. Some, like “cartography,” are more “dungeon aids” than anything else — if you don’t feel like making maps by hand.  (I’m out of the habit, so it’s one of the first skills I took). The skills all have several levels of improvement.  Some of the most critical and useful skills – like water breathing, or regeneration – are a bit more on the pricey side, but for good reason.

Of course, equipment is also key to survival in the dungeon. The merchant in the village offers some items for sale, but what he has is generally more baseline equipment compared to what can be found in the dungeon. I don’t know if any equipment is level-restricted (UPDATE: Yes, yes it is… in fact, I had some in my inventory I’d not noticed), but some of it is skill-restricted. One more reason to blow your gold on skill increases!  You can also purchase spells from the wizard in the village, which will likewise be pretty critical (especially healing). The wizard will also trade in rare magical artifacts that can do things like permanently increase attributes, but according to the developer these will require trade-in of rare magical essences found in the dungeon.

Enemies appear as shadows on-screen – you won’t know exactly what you are about to encounter until you collide with them (or vice versa). Combat is handled via a menu, and their visuals are static 2D images. It’s low budget and low tech, but it does the job. Monsters (and treasures) will respawn over time – at least most of them will.  A lot of the early dungeon delving is very reminiscent of old-school RPGs: You make repeated forays into the first level or so of the dungeon, fighting the same encounters, and retreating quickly back to the safety of the village after only a few encounters. Later, once you’ve obtained skills in magic and hit point regeneration, you will be better set for more extended journeys.

And by “extended” I’m not kidding around. This dungeon is fifty levels deep. Yes. Fifty. Five-Zero. The levels aren’t dinky modern CRPG levels either, but extensive Might & Magic era levels with dozens and dozens of rooms each, too. Considering the number of hours I’ve spent in just the first couple of levels, this is going to be a long game. (Jesse wasn’t kidding when he included “Eternity” in the title, I guess…)  From his reports, there will be plenty of quests, riddles, and puzzles going on through each level, and there is already quite a bit to hold my interest. It’s not just monsters and treasures. Spiked corridors, chasms, pools, special areas (filled with water, gas, magical effects, etc), traps, and so forth abound… even in the first level.

One interesting feature is that the village is constantly offering a bounty. You need to accept the quest first, but then once you’ve slain a monster of the given type, you can return and claim a little extra gold and experience for your kill. It’s very helpful in the early game, but later in the game it’s just more of a small bonus when you manage to get back to civilization.

As far as NPC interaction is concerned – so far I’ve really not encountered anything beyond the village menu and a choice of whether or not to fight docile monsters. While this could change in the final version, I’d not anticipate Darklight Dungeon Eternity being a game long on deep story, plot development, and interesting characters. It’s about hacking and slashing and puzzle-solving and questing.  It’s about managing risk and resources and knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. It’s a game where “character development” is about beefing up stats, not meaningful conversations.

There’s definitely a place for that. And the place exists on my hard drive.  Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of RPG I feel like playing. It’s got an addictive quality to keep progressing, gaining power to explore deeper and more dangerous territory – the sort of thing that attracts me to the genre in the first place. Hopefully the final version will take what’s working with the alpha and build on it. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ends up.

Darklight Dungeon: Eternity is planned for a November release (11/11/11, along with about 500 other games). For more information, you can go visit the Darklight Dungeon website.

Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • skavenhorde said,

    Much better looking. Omg is it better looking. That was my one hangup with the first one. The artstyle kept changing on me, but this one….ho boy…..Keep up the good work my friend. It sounds amazing.

  • Elwro said,

    Somehow it gives me a Demise vibe. Now that’s a game you can play for years before finishing it (especially now, with the expansion)…

  • Noumenon said,

    Gosh, this was one I thought I might actually try after reading, but 11/11/11 is so far off I won’t remember this review existed by the time it comes out.

  • Bad Sector said,

    It looks interesting and i’ll check it out once it is available, but while i don’t want to be *that* guy… is there a reason it uses the same texture everywhere? 😛 Using 3-4 variations of that texture would make it look much better and less repeated. Also randomly placed foliage and decals, random slight “displacements” on the world vertices to make it look more organic and some color in those light sources, even if that too is random (just don’t make it disco-dungeons). These are modifications that can be made to the engine by the coder, require little to no extra art (ok, except the texture variations), work on the whole game (all 50 levels) and improve the visuals a lot.

    It isn’t only about visual quality – if everything looks the same it becomes very hard for the player to make mental landmarks and without them it will become very easy to be lost.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    With luck, I’ll be able to try out an updated version of it before its released and offer my impressions then.

    I agree about the texturing – which I probably wouldn’t have noticed a few years ago (or I would have thought they didn’t look good but couldn’t say why). Hopefully that’s something he’ll address before release. But I agree with Skavenhorde – it does look better than the first game.

  • Demiath said,

    From my own experience I’m not so sure about the “getting lost” part of the texture complaints.

    For example, I played through Wizardry 6 for the first time less than three years ago and that game has exactly *one* wall texture. While the game world is still supposed to encompass everything from murky swamps to dark dungeons and underground riverbeds, all you ever see are those never-ending stone walls surrounding you in all directions. In spite of this, I found it surprisingly manageable to memorize dungeon layouts and make mental landmarks of sorts just by simply spending a lot of time in the same places (which you’d do anyway because incessant grinding was both necessary and a lot of addictive fun). I *did* use user-made maps to some extent, but primarily in order to know where to go next to advance the main quest etc. It would seem that evolution has provided the human brain with an innate capacity for dungeon crawling which games like Darklight Dungeon exploits.

    Still, I have to admit that texture repetitiveness in proper, polygonal, video card-enhanced 3D looks a bit dull even compared to the spartan visuals of Wizardry 6, and it has been one of the reasons why I haven’t picked up the original DL yet (that, and the lack of party-based combat).

  • jzoeller said,

    Thanks for the preview Jay!

    DarkLight Dungeon Eternity is a huge leap forward from DD1, in nearly every aspect. I sat down to make a list of things improved not so long ago and came up with 50+ rather easily. I am hoping in the next month to polish some things up and make a video, there is so much to show.

    Some of the key improvements.

    – Doors swing open/close, secret doors slide open
    – Shaders for water, teleportals, etc.
    – Improved menu system, both functionaly and graphicaly
    – Combat graphicaly improved, visuals for damage, miss, criticals and spells. Flow of combat is smother and a bit more depth. Monsters have plenty of new abilities and use spells much better now.
    – Revamped spell system. New types of spells such as attack/defense buffs, paralyize, elemental weapon enchantments
    – Dungeon in general has a better layout, rooms can be large and deep (10+ floors). DD1 had approx one repetative object per area, DD2 now has many more ojbects per room. Each floor area is 33% larger.
    – Difficulty settings
    – Many more puzzles, riddles, traps, etc.
    – Vast amount of content, there are many surprise awaiting the player in the dungeon.
    – Buffer bar for actions/potions/spells (this is one of my favoriate improvements) makes a big difference in gameplay

    There are many, many other improvements and looking in the forums on my website will show many of them.

    Between playing the original and DD2, there is a whole new level of gameplay that is hard to put into words. I am very excited to get DD2 out to the public. I believe if you even remotely liked DD1 you are going to love DD2. I am however taking my time, I want DD2 to be an epic experience to the player.

    I have invested every penny made from DD1 into DD2 and I wish to thank everyone who has taken interest and supported DarkLight Dungeon.


  • xenovore said,


    While it’s cool that there is a lot of space to explore (50 levels?!), and you’re adding a plethora of puzzles/riddles/etc, I think the time would be better spent building fewer levels with better texture application, more detailed architecture, and more visually unique locations.

    The game-play might actually be good, but since the game looks boring as hell, I doubt I will ever bother to try it. (And even if I did decide to try it, I’m quite dubious that it will be compelling enough to play it through the first level, let alone the 50th.)

    Look, I’m not asking for fully high-res/relief-mapped/tesselated/deferred-lighted visuals — just something that inspires the imagination and promotes immersion! E.g. old games like Doom, Shadowcaster, Ultima Underworld, Hexen, Daggerfall, Thunderscape, Stonekeep, etc. don’t have high-res textures or a lot of geometry, but they’re still visually interesting enough to provide immersion…

    And the first impression for a potential customer is usually visual: a screenshot or video clip. There are a lot of potential customers out there (me) that aren’t going to spend 10 seconds (let alone $10) with something where the first impression is “That looks like crap! Hmmm… oh hey, Might & Magic 8 is only 6 bucks on GOG.com…”

    One final tip: don’t waste time with fancy shaders if the rest of your content is sub-par — it creates/emphasizes visual disparity, i.e. “Oooo that water looks fantastic! Why does everything else look so bad?”

  • jzoeller said,

    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    There is no doubt that DarkLight Dungeon is a game you are either going to fall in love with or pass over. I have made large improvements from DD1 and hope to continue that over many more years of the series.

    I am a one man team and by far not an artist. I have been in contact with several artiest who are very resonable price wise, but still way out of my current budget.

    There is a lot of variety in many of the different areas within the dungeon and care has been taken to try to add more objects and uniqueness to each area.

    My hope is within time I will be in a position to improve the graphics in the ways that people have been giving feedback. I consider myself to be a very good developer and designer and my current customers of DD1 love the game.

    I have put a lot of passion into DarkLight Dungeon Eternity and hope people do give it a chance because there really is something there behind the scenes 🙂


  • skavenhorde said,

    @xenovore We must be looking at two totally different games or you’re just talking about the first one because from where I’m standing it is a hell of a lot better than the first one.

    It wasn’t so much quality of the graphics that bugged me, but the inconsistency in art styles. Something basic and consistent would do wonders for his games and so far I think he is on the right track.

  • xenovore said,

    @ Jesse:

    I get that you’re a one-man team which is exactly why I said, make less content but better content.

    And as far as the art side goes… 3 things:
    1) Practice, of course.
    2) You can find anything on the ‘net. Get screenshots from other games with styles that you like, find (or take) photos of real world places that you like, visit sites like Deviant Art, etc. Then use those references to create your game content.
    3) Keep practicing.

    The thing is — and this why I even bother saying anything here — I really want to like your games; I’m always looking for a great RPG and if it’s indie, even better. So hopefully in the future I’ll see a screenie of one of your games and be like, “Hell yes, I want to play THAT!” =)

    @ skavenhorde: It is better, but only marginally from what I can see; it’s definitely not compelling enough for me. I’ve only got so much time in the day for games, and I’d rather spend that time with something amazing than something mediocre.

  • skavenhorde said,

    Just admit that you want an “Awesome” button in the game: http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?id=589