Tag Archives: runes

Dungeon Master: Theron’s Quest, PC Engine

Theron’s Quest is a modified version of the incredible Dungeon Master, released for the PC Engine in Japan in 1992 and the TurboGrafx-16 in North America in 1993.

Developers FTL/Software Heaven changed the premise of the main quest (this time you specifically play a named character, called Theron, who must find seven parts of a set of knight’s armour); they also changed the layouts of all the dungeons (although some places might seem familiar to DM fans); they added cut sequences between levels (kind of unnecessary, but they don’t detract too much); they made the game easier (by reducing the frequency of monsters, and also by replacing the save option with plenty of resurrection points), and of course they also made it playable on a gamepad (for one person).

If you sit down and play Theron’s Quest intently, like I’ve done, you’ll know that “making the game easier” doesn’t necessarily equate to “making the game easy”; and even in a emulator I’d say that Theron’s Quest is a decent challenge. In fact: I rate Theron’s Quest very highly. A lot of people dismiss it as “just Dungeon Master on the PC Engine“, but it is in fact a little bit more than that – it’s a completely new Dungeon Master sequel, and (thankfully) doesn’t go in the same “ultra hard” direction as Chaos Strikes Back

Theron’s Quest does a very good job of making a brilliant game more accessible to mainstream gamers. And it also allows Dungeon Master pros to flex their muscles in an environment they love, but don’t have to commit too much time to beating. It’s a ‘win-win’ for everybody. 🙂

More: Dungeon Master: Theron’s Quest on Wikipedia

Stonekeep, PC

Stonekeep is a strange first-person Role-Playing Game, developed and published by Interplay Productions in 1995.

I say “strange” because Stonekeep comes from a time when developers were looking for any excuse to inject some full-motion video into their games, and Stonekeep uses digitised video quite a lot, and it now looks very dated. Actually, Stonekeep uses two very dated graphical techniques to create the world you’re exploring – the second technique being Silicon Graphics-rendered graphics (the first being the aforementioned digitised video technique, a la Mortal Kombat). It’s the clash of the bad graphics techniques…

The way the digitised video has been used in the game means that a lot of the characters and monsters in it look kinda like pantomime villains… Well I felt like I was playing a pantomime fantasy game with Stonekeep… The visual style of this game reminds me of that TV show, Knightmare – the one that superimposed live actors over painted fantasy backdrops… That’s what they tried to do with this game – film people in costumes and incorporate them into a Role-Playing Game… And the end result is a bit of a weird mess!

In spite of the outdated presentation Stonekeep plays excellently. Movement is quick and simple, and is tile-based. A journal keeps track of quests, items, maps, stats and available spells (which are cast using runes inscribed on wands). Combat is real-time; similar to that seen in the mighty Dungeon Master. Quests and puzzles are fairly simple – mostly unblock a route or kill a bad guy – although there are a few surprises along the way that take Stonekeep beyond the merely ‘generic’.

I wouldn’t say that Stonekeep is a ‘solid gold classic’, but I would recommend that RPG fans give it a try. Or even better: play it to the later stages at least, because that’s where it gets more interesting. That said: if you have a low tolerance for goblins, faeries, and ice queens then maybe this game isn’t for you…

Stonekeep is a game that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten and does have its moments, even though the story and setting are a little trite. Don’t let me put you off though – Stonekeep plays nicely in DOSBox and is cheap on GOG.com and is well worth adding to the collection.

More: Stonekeep on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Stonekeep on GOG.com

Chaos Strikes Back, Atari ST

Chaos Strikes Back is to RPGs what The Empire Strikes Back is to movie sequels… It is simply one of the best – and toughest – real-time role-players ever made. Dungeon Master was incredible, but the sequel, Chaos Strikes Back, is just another dimension.

The designers at FTL Games outdid themselves in terms of puzzles, atmosphere and level designs. Chaos Strikes Back is so complex, however, that at times it risks disappearing up its own back bottom… What I mean by that is: sometimes a game can be so difficult that it becomes uninteresting to play. It depends on your threshold.

You’re also thrown in at the deep end in Chaos Strikes Back. A room, full of flesh-eating worms, and no obvious exit… Just don’t panic. There’s no need to, because CSB gives you fairly high level characters to start with, so you can fight back immediately (when you find a weapon).

Chaos Strikes Back is infamous for its difficulty, but don’t let this game intimidate you. Give it some back. It is beatable, and also very satisfying to play. Much like its stellar predecessor.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_Strikes_Back

Dungeon Master, Atari ST

This is the one: Dungeon Master – the Atari ST original. One of the best games ever made, and probably my favourite game of all time…

Developed by FTL Games and released in 1987, Dungeon Master redefined what Role-Playing Games were – and video games in general – by combining real-time gameplay with a perfect balance of simplicity and complexity. Dungeon Master is easy to play, but difficult to master, and the atmosphere created by the graphics and sound effects is still quite brilliant, even now, some 30 years after release.

As a ‘dungeon crawler’, Dungeon Master is a non-stop roller-coaster ride through waves upon waves of killer monsters. The fact that you rarely get the chance to rest (the monsters follow you, some can open doors, and others will run away when they are threatened), is testament to the game’s amazing design.

Dungeon Master was ported to many other platforms, and some might argue that the PC DOS version is the best, but I’m sticking with the original ST version. It was the biggest selling game on the system by far (probably something to do with the game’s innovative copy protection, as much as the game’s quality), and showed that the Atari ST was more than capable of hosting killer apps.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_Master_(video_game)

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time on thekingofgrabs.com
100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, PC

The second of two ground-breaking Ultima Underworld games made by Blue Sky Productions (later to become Looking Glass Technologies) and Origin Systems.

Labyrinth of Worlds, first released in 1993, again features a very early (and successful) attempt to create a Role-Playing Game with a fully-explorable 3D environment. Both this – and its predecessor, The Stygian Abyss – were developed concurrently, and were a significant leap forward in terms of software technology at the time.

Both games are still available to buy (for a paltry amount) from GOG.com, and are well worth the investment, in both time and money.

Back in 2002 I wrote an article about the series for PC Zone magazine, called Games That Changed The World, and interviewed programmers Paul Neurath and Doug Church, and Producer Warren Spector. Here are the interviews, if you want to read more.

More: Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds on GOG.com

Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, PC

The first of two ground-breaking Ultima Underworld games made by Looking Glass Technologies (formerly known as Blue Sky Productions) and Origin Systems.

The Stygian Abyss, first released in 1992, is one of the first Role-Playing Games to feature first-person action in a 3D environment. Back then, these games were a giant technological leap forward for the genre, although nowadays the effect is not quite so impressive. That said: play Ultima Underworld now and you will still find plenty of joy in the gameplay. Not to mention: a serious challenge worth undertaking. The Stygian Abyss was followed by the even better Labyrinth of Worlds in 1993. Both games are still available to buy via GOG.com for very little money and are well worth a purchase.

Back in 2002 I wrote an article about the series for PC Zone magazine, called Games That Changed The World, and interviewed programmers Paul Neurath and Doug Church, and Producer Warren Spector. Here are the interviews, if you want to read more. Note to Wikipedia editors: get your facts right. These interviews, conducted by myself, were NOT commissioned or published by C&VG magazine (as you incorrectly state), but PC Zone magazine!

More: Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss on GOG.com