Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Dungeon Crawler Recipe?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2013

It’s a start:

The Dungeon Crawler Recipe

I think you need more to it than this. And “theme” – I dunno. Some of my favorite games of previous eras played fast and loose with this, and that was part of the fun. It seems modern players get much more hung up and demand a purity test for fantasy RPGs, but back in the day – no biggie. We were used to dragons laying on persian rugs and stuff back then, anyway.

One element that I tend to recall when remembering my favorite dungeon crawlers of yore is a feeling of oppressiveness, and a lack of safety. You could, at times, retreat to a safe place briefly – but you’d spend a lot of time down in a dark, dangerous place, ‘cuz that was where the action was. You’d spend a lot of the time in the dark. And by “the dark,” I don’t mean dim lighting that only allowed a few tiles’ worth of vision (though there was that, too).

I remember some dungeon levels becoming as familiar to me as the hallways of my school. My favorite bolt-holes. The exact sequence of steps to get back to a safe spot or a healing fountain. The thing about most dungeon crawlers was that I LIVED in those dungeons. And I think of depth – layers and layers of dungeon hallways built on top of each other.

And I think of pacing – I think slow, methodical pace. Thus the “crawl.” Diablo and its family tree are not really dungeon crawlers.  Those are about hacking and slashing boldly forward, not careful and meticulous progress through an extremely hostile environment that doesn’t leave much margin for error. In a true dungeon crawler, the one-two combo of puzzle-style challenges and dangerous combat makes it quite easy to end up in one of those, “Oh, CRAP!” situations with little chance for escape, let alone victory.

Filed Under: Design, Retro - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • alanm said,

    Good link, though I agree with you that they over emphasise the ‘consistent theme’.

    Grimrock never really did it for me; I felt like it combined my least favourite dungeon crawl elements: puzzles devoid of intuitive cause-effect (making them as fun as brute forcing a combination padlock) and combat that quickly became repetitive rather than terrifying (“oh god here’s another ten minutes of strafing and/or sitting behind a door”). I’m glad it did so well, but I didn’t get into it.

    Wizardry V, now that was a dungeon crawl 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I was really looking forward to Grimrock, and it was a delight for several levels. But at some point I lost interest, and haven’t really finished it yet. I think the problem was that the ‘dance’ with the monsters ended up taking center stage in the combat system, and between that and the timing-heavy puzzles, I got a little fatigued.

    But I still consider myself a fan of the game. I’d just like to see a sequel mix it up a bit more.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’d agree on the theme mixing: it is just fine, and it may even add to it. Lots of people complain about straight, Tolkien/D&D-derived medieval fantasy anyway. (I never get tired of it myself, but I gotta say I love the weirdness added to the formula in stuff like Morrowind.)

  • Nikola said,

    I don’t know about you, but the first Diablo felt really crawly to me in the beginning. Then I realized I can restart the game with the same character.

    Still, I was new to RPGs back then, so I always had to play methodically, mostly because I messed up my character’s stats.

    Even after that, when ever I played dungeon crawlers, I always played it safe. I’d go back to town over and over again, waiting for monster respons, etc. just to get a big stronger so the later floors would be easier. That’s one of the reasons I always disliked games with time limits (get to point x before day d, or you fail).

    Then again, I loved ADOM and Exile 3, in spite there being time limits, so who knows 😀