Dungeon Hero

Will Porter sits in on feverish plans to get dungeon crawling up from its hands and knees

Fantasy often has a few holes in. Take Mordor's representation at the close of the cinematic Rings jaunt - a dusty, arid surface with a bunch of orcs just standing around shouting at each other. Where was the infrastructure? Where did the greenskins do their shopping? Where were the basic sanitation facilities?

Great as Peter Jackson's vision was, it's doubtful he'd ever get a job as a town planner. The same is true of your average dungeon: who, honestly, leaves a big chest full of treasure just lying around next to a badly concealed pit trap? A bloody idiot, that's who.


"Why has someone left that gold?" continues a concerned Simon Bradbury of Firefly studios. "Why hasn't that spider eaten those goblins? Why are they just standing there waiting for me to kill them? I mean, ours is a dungeon with toilets in..."

Firefly, you see, have a thoroughly British fascination with toilets. I mean, the last time I spoke to Bradbury, we were discussing the intricacies of the people of ancient Rome having toilets in their kitchens for CivCity Rome; the time before that, the importance of the gong-collector in Stronghold. Firefly are big on creating places that work - and places without toilets generally don't.

Dungeon Hero is set to be released several aeons from hence (spring 2009 at the last count), but I stamped my little foot until it got a few pages in this issue of ZONE this month because it's dead-set on remedying exactly what I dislike about seemingly every dungeon crawl ever created - from Dungeon Siege to Diablo.

Not only is there a bizarre Deathtrap Dungeon fantasy set-up that's wholly inconsistent with real life, but also any story feels unnecessary and tacked on. Here, then, an entire living, breathing city with goblins bustling around and going about their daily business is being constructed (somewhat of a Firefly speciality really) - serving as both a foot in reality and as a narrative device.

You play as an interloper from the surface, and you're a bit of a git - hacking here and dismembering there. Goblins treat you as an untrustworthy alien, largely ignoring you striding through the streets of their four city districts and bumping your head on the ceilings, concentrating on their own personal clan war. One of the goblins has dug a little too deep though, and tapped a direct connection into death itself. They'll probably start wanting more help when they find that out...

"Goblins have a religion based on trees, and each city suburb is based on these," explains level designer Andrew Parsons.


"In Birch, a religious area, you'll see shamans gathering together, other guys preaching to groups of goblins. In direct contrast, meanwhile, you've got The Greys, our slum area, where there's a crack in the cavern roof above it, which means that it's constantly raining. It's the place where the dead, the dying, the diseased, the criminal and the poor can be found. What we're going for there is a Blade Runner-type feel."

This city, then, will be the hub of your adventures, changing with the ebbs and flows of the story - should a plague break out, for example, you'll start to see white handprints on doors, green ooze dripping off walls and goblin doctors scurrying from place to place.

All around you, Firefly want the city to buzz with activity - the industrial Oak area, for example, being the gateway to the frontline trenches of the war against the Redeye clan, and as such heaving with weaponsmiths, field-hospitals and the walking wounded.

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