Again just before slide down the 8-bit sphincter and see what sprites shoot out I would like to give yet another shout out to the graphical sorcerers over at Me and Alan who made us our wicked banner earlier in the week and now have sorted out our twitter background too! Check it out for yourselves @teabagordie and visit their site. Cheers.
These days my staple diet now is low carb first person shooters, as an early teen I had a sweet tooth for real-time strategy games such as Age of Empires, Civilisation II and Sim-City 2000. Similarly at this tender age I found that watching nice people really knack themselves on You’ve Been Framed absolutely hilarious. I believe this is why this next game struck a chord with me and made it one of my most cherished titles. Straight from my teenage brain I present to you Dungeon Keeper.
This game was developed by Bullfrog under the guidance of Peter Molyneux, for those readers who don’t know he is most famous for promising the moon and delivering cheese in the Fable saga. Released in 1997 to critical acclaim this RTS at first glance is fairly standard fare using a pretty standard mouse interface found in most RTS games. What sets it apart of course is the premise of the game. You play the bad guy.
This angle, to my knowledge at least, had never really been tackled before and the result is pure unadulterated fun. The aim of the game is to build up a dungeon and fill it with a multitude of evil minions to protect the dungeon heart. Once your horde was strong enough you then sent them to lay waste to the noble kingdom on that level, then wash rinse and repeat until the idyllic world map was a decimated smoking ruin. All the while sat in front of your PC doing your best Vincent Price evil laugh…don’t look at me like that I know you did the laugh.
Going back to the whole minions thing Bullfrog certainly threw plenty of those in, all of which were quite unique, you had Warlocks which glided everywhere and researched new spells for you to unleash on the next hapless hero you came across. Bile Demons (pictured) who ate live chickens by the handful and made good use of their weight and digestive gases in battle, Dark Mistresses who are often found in the torture room whipping themselves whilst screaming in delight. Oh and of course the cluster fuck that was The Horned Reaper, a killing machine that if left idle would pulverize your own creatures!
And if you wanted more peons you could opt to kill your foes and bury them in your graveyard and once you had enough bodies a (non sparkling) vampire would rise from the grave. The other option was to render them unconscious and either put them into a prison cell where they would eventually die and become skeletons for your unholy cause, or my personal favourite was to give them to a mistress in a torture room and have them whipped until they either turned traitor or perished just like on You’ve Been Framed…..
You see pain was a great motivator in Dungeon Keeper and as the ungodly floating hand you were the one to mete it out to lazy workers with a couple of swift slaps, which sped them up in their task and provided some great noises from the now decidedly non-lethargic creature. The slap was also very handy at stopping in fighting between natural enemies in your stronghold, the skeleton and bile demon despised each other and were spoiling to knock the seven bells out of the other if left unattended. Of course it was possible to get a bit carried away and possibly slay an imp or two but hey that was just more fuel for the graveyard right?
Now before you have a specialist come out and look at me I would just like to point out just how influential Dungeon Keeper has been to the games industry at large. By far the most notable of which is Minecraft whose creator “Notch” openly states that he was partially inspired by Dungeon Keeper.
Of course this game got a sequel which again was very good but I think as it got prettier it lost a touch of that dark appeal from the first game. Back in the day there were plans to make a third game but they were shelved thanks to the greedy garter snake that is EA swallowing poor Bullfrog whole.
I bet EA has the best evil laugh ever.
97 is the year Daft Punk released the fantastic Homework sadly it’s probably more famously the year The Spice Girls burst on to the scene and topped the charts on the far side of the pond with debut single Wannabe (the first British act to perform such a feat …. sigh). This was a bumper year for Video games too with some truly exceptional titles on display. Dosser has already mentioned Dungeon Keeper but how’s this for a list of games; Final fantasy VII, Carmageddon, Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, Fallout, Age of Empires, Grand Theft Auto, Riven, Monkey Island, Tomb Raider 2 and the original Gran Turismo. Absurd right?
So what chance would Earthworm Jim developers Shiny Entertainment have to make their mark on the market against all these gems? Unlikely hero Kurt Hectic was their only hope.
(MDK PC and MAC ’97)
I think the main reason this slightly wacky game really stuck with me was because it was the first 3D third person shooter that I had ever played (well at least one in which I didn’t spend most of my time trying to re-angle the camera to look up Lara’s shorts).The game focused around the escapades of former janitor Kurt Hectic whose life aboard a research ship was thrown into turmoil when his boss Dr Hawkins discovered that an army of Alien ships were headed to Earth in order to strip the planet of its resources with the primary goal of stealing our potatoes…. don’t ask.
The zany Dr Hawkins has as it happens developed a Coil Suit capable of offering Kurt some protection and a means to destroy the behemoth ships hell-bent on the destruction of Earth. In terms of graphics the game won’t look massively impressive now but back in ’97 this was the mutts nuts, especially when it was time to use the suits head mounted sniper rifle. As far as I can recall this was the first third person game to give you ability to zoom in and actually head shot an enemy (Something that is a staple with most shooters may very well have started here). What makes this mechanic more interesting is the three mini displays above your main scope which were capable of showing the trajectory of your shots even after you have panned to a new mechanical target.
The robotic alien foes and in particular the bosses could be difficult to defeat but our hero Kurt had a range of abilities at his disposal. Whilst gliding, chain gunning and sniping your way through a level is all well and good, the comical yet tenacious enemies had surprisingly intelligent AI and the tide could quickly turn against you. In order to counter-act this Kurt had a plethora of alternate methods to take down his foes. Hand grenades, decoys, mini nukes and airstrikes from Bones the robotic dog (it’s a long story) were just a few of your options and in a game that never lacked in creativity.
Pointy headed but cool
Hilarious in execution, intelligent in its design MDK really offered something a bit different even if it wasn’t necessarily the first of its kind, coming after the likes of Tomb Raider had shown what a third person game can really be it did offer some new mechanics however and a fun game that never seemed like it was too concerned with its own self-importance. Obviously it worked because the game scored a PlayStation release and a Bioware developed Dreamcast & PC sequel.
Both MDK and the sequel are available on Steam.