Dungeon Design: Time to Reach for a Higher Standard

Can a compromise be met between engaging dungeons and collections of random rooms?

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since my friends and I used to create tiny dungeons on
graph paper in order to satisfy our newfound Dungeons & Dragons
in the early 1980s, I’ve been a dungeon fanatic. What do I
like to do most in
pen and paper role playing games? Explore dungeons. What do I like to
do most
in MMORPGs? Explore dungeons. There is one caveat I have when it comes
to MMO
dungeons though. They need to be non-instanced. I like the thrill of
having to
keep moving forward to avoid getting caught by respawns and saving (or
saved by) random players you meet within them too much to be truly
happy in any
instanced dungeon. 

will admit there are a lot of advantages to instanced
dungeons since they allow developers to create a customized adventure,
with scripted events and more. Even so, a non-instanced dungeon allows
for more
spontaneous reaction and interaction between players, whether good or
bad. No
matter which way a developer chooses to go though, there is a growing
in the industry and I think it’s time we address it. 

is a distinct lack of intelligent dungeon design in
too many games right now. To be clear, I don’t mean that game
designers aren’t
creating “good” dungeons. In fact, I know more
developers that want to create
very intricate dungeons but due to lessons of the past, have been
unable to do
so. What am I talking about? I’m glad you asked.

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favorite dungeon of all time, out of every MMORPG on
the planet, is one in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes called
Trickster’s Haven. On the
surface, it appeared to be just like any other dungeon. There were
pathways, rooms,
and monsters. If players wanted to, there was nothing to stop them from
a good old fashioned dungeon crawl and just battle their way through
majority of it. For those that took the time to really dig into its
though, there was an entirely new world waiting to be explored. Or
perhaps I
should say an entirely new dungeon… 

a series of ever-increasingly engaging and
complex quests, players would go on a journey to discover the secret of
dungeon’s previous occupants. It began with a few simple
“kill x mobs” and
“gather X tokens” quests, though with some
interesting text. From there the
story and dungeon puzzles deepened quickly. 

it was turning in cursed bones to get an
non-cursed bone to summon a specific boss, having to say the word
“dreams” in
three different rooms before the Riddle Master would appear, being cast
out of
the dungeon by the end boss before going back in and finding a way to
slay him… all of these were exceptional concepts in their
own right. Even these
held a secret though. Early in the dungeon, players would have come
across a
room with a painting in it, called the Wall of Denial. Once the final
boss in
this extensive quest line had been beaten, it was then revealed that
the painting
was actually a gateway to an
entirely new
– an
underground Cyclops palace! 

I personally think this was all brilliantly
awesome, from a developer perspective it poses a huge issue. Because
the quest
series was so long, so involved, and so intricate, most people had no
idea the
Cyclops palace dungeon even existed. Even at the height of
popularity, this second dungeon was rarely occupied due to the length
of time
it took those that didn’t know about it to get flagged. As a
result, those that
knew about it could rarely get a group together and the rest of the
was oblivious to its existence. In other words, someone (or a group of
someones) spent a lot of time creating a dungeon, boss encounters, loot
etc… all for the enjoyment of only a fraction of the
game’s players. No matter
how cool it may have been to create a “secret
dungeon” for players to discover,
in terms of business, it was a waste of resources that could have been
elsewhere. Even so, it still remains my favorite dungeon ever so thanks
those that made it! 

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want to see dungeons like Trickster’s Haven make a
return to games. It was exciting, involved, and so exquisitely cool
that I
can’t convey just how much. It’s a case of
“you needed to be there” (or go
there now with a group since the game is free to play) to really
understand. At
the same time though, as gamers, we need to understand that games are
by companies to make money. The cooler they can make the experience,
better, but there is a limit to how much time can be put into something
only a small percentage of the player base are going to see. 

is there? The reality is “Of course”, but think
to the early days of World of Warcraft raids. There are millions of
that never saw even Ragnaros when Molten Core was introduced. Sunwell
saw less
that 2% of the game’s population ever making it to the final
boss. These are
some of the reasons why dungeons are more accessible now than they
were, but I want to believe that some kind of middle ground can be
between accessible and exquisitely involved. 

we’re not acting like hooligans on forums
or in Youtube comments, gamers as a whole are pretty damned smart. We
being challenged. We like having to figure things out. We also like the
satisfaction we get from discovering that the dungeon we thought was
cool turns out to be freakin’ epic! The time has come for
those days to return.
There are games coming down the pipe that are bringing back the idea of
dungeons, but I sincerely hope they’re more than just a
collection of random rooms.


To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Game Page.

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