Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Dungeon’s Got Depth!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2013

I like big dungeons, and I cannot lie. wiz1map5
You adventurers can’t deny
When the party walks in through those elf-runed doors
And find out its got ten floors…

You’re no longer bored. You want to pull out your sword.
You know that dungeon is deep and mean
With lots of treasure for you to glean.
This dungeon’s packed! You attack!
You can’t say when you’ll be coming back.

The NPCs all tried to warn you,
But that’s danger that you were born to!
You hear that rumor of the dragon down on level nine
And the treasure just short of divine,
But now you keep reloading to survive
Those trolls down on level five.

The Dungeon’s Got Depth!

Okay, that’s about as far as I am gonna go, with apologies to Sir Mix-A-Lot.  And to you, for subjecting you to that.  This is what happens with too much caffeine and too little sleep. And too much time coding up visibility blocks and ladders. I think I need some fresh air.

I’ve talked about dungeon design in RPGs a few times. Like here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

When working out the “secret sauce” for dungeon design in Frayed Knights 2 for other designers (and myself, so I don’t forget anything), I thought I had less than a full page of notes, hints, and suggestions. It turned out to be seven pages long, and still didn’t include everything that I thought would be important. But the bigger the document, the less likely it was to be read, and I figured to trust the designers to comprehend the rest on their own.

It’s part of why I get so excited about all the indie RPGs coming out these days… and their impact on “mainstream.” For years it seemed that we were trying desperately in CRPGs to get out of the dungeons – because dungeons were easy (or easier)  to represent and to design, whereas the wilderness was hard (especially in 3D). Now, it seems like we are re-awakening to the joys of the in-depth dungeon crawl.

Assuming it’s done right, of course. Part of the move away from ’em in the past was due to the challenge of making these dungeons entertaining, rather than filler. But now that this is a current event rather than ancient history, it’s once again an area for serious study and improvement. I’m for more awesome dungeon crawls!

Not that this is key to any RPGs – or that I wouldn’t get sick of them if they start overwhelming the genre again. But I’m glad they are making a comeback.

Filed Under: Geek Life, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,

    Om nom nom dungeons.

  • Felix said,

    Having just made a couple of roguelikes, I’m proud to say I followed most of Bruno Patatas’ advice:

    1) Well-defined goal; both my games have that, retrieval and escape respectively (he missed one, see).
    2) Theme: having a well-defined theme directed my development for both games, even though I diverged from it in places. But that’s all right, theme should be a roadsign, not a roadblock. Theme also informed my level generators, to remarkable effect.
    3) Over-arching goal: well d’oh, the enemies are part of the theme. How else? But sometimes it can be hard to come up with enough monsters that fit the theme perfectly. See above.
    4) Traps and puzzles: um… traps make sense in a tomb, but that’s pretty much it. If you care about theme, don’t put traps in your dungeons just for the sake of it. Puzzles might fit in more settings, but they’re more difficult to set up procedurally… wait… I have an idea.
    5) Pacing: that’s actually not so hard to do, even procedurally, but you need enough gameplay elements to sprinkle evenly across your dungeon levels. Then again, it’s better to have a small, tight game with tons of things to do in every little corner than reams of empty corridors. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from text adventures, of all places.

    Now I have ideas for three more games in the same vein, but I’ll probably do a couple in entirely different genres first, just to keep things from going stale.

  • Xenovore said,

    One thing to note is that the style of the game factors into pacing/content density. I.e. it doesn’t necessarily need to be packed to the ceiling with stuff to do, 100% of the time.

    If the game is combat-oriented it’s actually not good design to have continual combat encounters. There needs to be an ebb-flow cycle, giving the player opportunities to re-group, heal, re-arm, take a breath, etc. between combat.

    If the game is focused on survival/horror, then longer stretches between encounters (whether combat or equipment) increases tension and apprehension.

    If the game is exploration-oriented, then the focus should be on providing cool places to find and see; there very well could be nothing else to do (e.g. Dear Esther).

    I think you get the idea. Of course, this is all subjective; one player’s perfect pacing/content density is another player’s dreary boredom (e.g. Farcry 2).