I started playing through Dungeon Keeper again recently, and boy does it stand the test of time. I’m running Windows Vista now, so I assumed it wouldn’t run. In fact, it runs perfectly.
For those of you who don’t know, I play computer games and have done for many years. I have played and enjoyed games of all different flavours over the years, but Dungeon Keeper stands out as my single favourite game of all time.
Back in Summer 1997 while staying in a caravan at a British Holidays campsite (Haggerston Castle most likely) my dear cousin showed me a game from a magazine (probably CVG) that looked quite cool, and just looking at the pages of screenshots, I was completely transfixed. Later that year (October as I recall) my family took the plunge into the world of home computing with our first PC (a Packard Bell with Windows 95). This was a really incredible time of my life, the sense of discovery and wonder this machine opened up (and this was long before we got the internet) was electrifying.
For some reason, the guy in PC World (Edinburgh) was really hyped on the game Little Big Adventure 2, which we played in store (my parents included) and we decided to get it as it would be a nice game for all the family. I was initially a little disappointed, but LBA2 actually turned out to be another really cool game, and sure enough, myself, my sister, and both my parents played LBA2 right through to completion.
Anyway, as great as LBA2 was, Dungeon Keeper was what I was craving, and it shot to the top of my Christmas list. In those days the two months wait till Christmas were agonising. I got hold of a demo of the game from a PC magazine and played it over and over and over, the game delivering everything it promised and more. So there on Christmas Day, I finally opened the one present that mattered to me that year, and proceeded to spend the rest of the day wrapped in my own little world of Dungeon building and hero-slaying.
Dungeon Keeper is a strange cross between a real time strategy and the god game genre Peter Molyneux and Bullfrog were famed for (Theme Park, Populus, etc.). Basically, your goal is to build a dungeon by excavating areas and building different rooms to attract creatures and eventually defeat the goodly heroes or enemy keepers (depending on the level). Much of the enjoyment of the game comes from its setting and style, the fact that you play the bad guys and not the good was a revelation to me, and I believe to most other gamers. The difference was palpable.
You could slap your minions with your evil clawed hand to make them work faster, Rooms included Torture Chambers and clanking medieval Workshops turning out traps and doors, and the creatures ranged from the hideous Bile Demon through the Dark Mistress who liked to spend time being tortured, and of course the awesome Horned Reaper that graced the games cover (and appears above).
The rare Horned Reaper (or Horny) was the game’s most powerful creature (excluding the final Lord of the Land) but with that power Horny brought with him an real attitude, getting angry simply because you haven’t showered him with gold in several minutes. As soon as Horny snaps he goes on the rampage attacking all your own creatures.
Dungeon Keeper is my single favourite game of all time. The audio is incredibly atmospheric, the graphics are impressive as far as sprite-based 3D goes (the sequel’s graphics moved into polygons), and the gameplay is finely tuned and addictive. The sequel might actually be more finely balanced, and the presentation is much improved, but the core ideas and innovations belong to the original and thus its place in my heart is secured.