30 May 11

Desktop Dungeons: now with actual variety!

Yeah, this situation doesn’t look suspicious at all.

I’ve always felt a little bit guilty about the latter portion of freeware DD’s game progression: in terms of raw challenge, it was good giving players a few extra dungeons to bang their heads against, but the core gameplay never changed quite enough for it to be pronounced “good design”. It was more like simple difficulty escalation: people completed X, they wanted more, so we gave them Y with an extra boss and they were only allowed to hurt monsters by chest-bumping them.

The freshly-established code base in the Unity version was built with far more flexibility in mind, and it’s a lot easier to add variety in dungeons. Now it’s not just a matter of creating more difficult dungeons with one or two extra enemies: we can change terrain layouts, spawn numbers and even starting gear. We can even code special scripted rules on a per-dungeon basis to shake things up, though this has to be done with care.

Read on for a more detailed description of our changes, along with a bunch of screenshots — just please excuse the repetitive graphics, we’ve only got one terrain tileset loaded up at the moment!

“Madness Isle”: if they don’t use magic, players will be forced to take risky expeditions down unknown stairways.


As has probably been noted in previous posts, the core layout of dungeons in Unity DD operates on a new set of parameters. Instead of the same basic algorithm generating every game experience you have (as it stands in the freeware version), we can load up and fire generators for just about every conceivable situation: mazes, islands, even multi-level towers or ant hives.

Even in standard roguelikes, the layout of a level can make an enormous difference — just ask any veteran. But in a game like Desktop Dungeons, it changes up the entire experience. Open desert levels afford flexible movement, but regeneration trickles away while you hunt down enemies that blink or run away. Claustrophic labyrinths create multiple chokepoints and dead-ends, pushing you towards teleportation magic or inconvenient enemies. Mines force you to burrow through walls to find new areas, while island hop maps ask players to make a leap of faith as they weave their way through numerous portals, never quite certain where they’ll emerge until they step through one.

“The Swamp”: much less confusing when you actually go through it. Carving your way through the plants, however, will steadily weaken your character.


The number of foes in Unity DD has greatly increased, and there’s a much broader roster of enemy effects: some will transform into other creatures, some have abnormally fast regeneration (and can cloak themselves after combat!) while others specifically shut down magic users by retaliating against fireball damage.

Some enemies don’t even grant experience: they’re merely there to hinder progress (usually with some nasty effect like poison or mana burn) and players have to find a way around them or spend the necessary resources to deal with them. Other enemies will drop special items that have a marginal effect on the current situation, and it’ll be up to players to decide whether the reward is worth the trouble of killing them.

“Creeplight Ruins”: at first, this seems to be a simple, open map filled with easily-defeated cultists. But their deaths hold a terrible secret.


Unity DD will sport a lot of dungeons that hook into custom handlers. These handlers are used to produce special “script” events that occur only in specific dungeons, making it easier to give each challenge its own personality.

For example, one dungeon may feature rock golems emerging from the walls every time a character levels up. Another dungeon can spawn “guardian monsters” which weaken the boss when they’re killed. A third dungeon may not even REVEAL the boss until specific conditions are met. These are just a few of the possibilities, and the full extent of scripted behaviour will be left as a surprise for beta players.

“The Rock Garden”: an ancient stone maze filled with ancient stone horrors. Absolutely swarming with hidden dangers …


The ease with which we can create interesting dungeons allows us to create a range of challenges that immediately dwarfs the freeware offering. With the tutorial and beginner dungeons alone, we’ve already got about eight or nine unique scenarios for less experienced players to have fun with — and that says nothing of the dungeon range that we have planned for gamers of all levels.

Of course, we won’t just be using every single idea we come up with: that would be lazy and could fill the final product with half-baked ideas. However, we ARE spamming concepts for internal testing and analysis — this shotgun approach to dungeon creation hopefully means that we’ll be able to create a game with dozens of amazing challenges that have been cherry-picked from many more okay ones.

So not only will we have many more dungeons for you to play, but we actually hope that EVERY SINGLE ONE of them will be way better than any other DD experience you’ve had thus far.

We’re getting pretty excited at the worlds which are being built right now, and we hope you are too.

16 Responses to “Desktop Dungeons: now with actual variety!”

  1. Evicous Says:

    Will you guys eventually be releasing a “map pack” for the game that has a collection of all of the dungeons that didn’t quite make the cut for the main game?

  2. Aequitas Says:

    @Evicous I don’t see us releasing ‘failed’ dungeons, since they failed to make the cut for a reason. But we definitely will look at releasing “map packs” with ever more interesting and fun dungeons 😉

  3. Evicous Says:

    Well since you had said “from many more okay ones” I assumed that there were ideas that were good enough to be released but not good enough to make it to the Main Release. I dunno.

    Well that’s promising anyways!

  4. Amy Zee Says:

    Will you also do something like the Labyrinth game? You know, the board game with the moving walls and such.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ravensburger-26448-Labyrinth-Game/dp/B00000J0JF (click on the image for a zoomable image.

    You can say, an entire column or row of walls and floors is moving 1 or 2 squares up or down if a special event happens. (e.g. whenever you open a treasure chest.) Yet the algorithm is made so that the dungeon is still finish-able. Only with different paths. At this point in this dungeon, even treasure chests can be traps (since they can close a path which was first opened)!

    *Notice how the board game only consists of straights, T’s and L’s, not full openings or full walls. You can mimic that by grouping the Desktop Dungeon tiles as 3 by 3 tiles, so that dungeon tile groups as an entirety are also straights, T’s or L’s.

    Lastly, how is your stance to a end-user level editor (and maybe upload/share function)?

  5. Carl Says:

    Looks awesome! The variety of maps will definitely change previous player behaviour. Maze maps will force me to not auto-convert weytwut, pissorf and endiswal. I’m looking forward to the many challenges, that was my problem with the freeware, once I’d unlocked everything I kinda lost interest. I had to create a new account for any further playability. 😀

    Keep up the good work guys!

  6. Asher V Says:

    How do you guys feel about using Unity so far?

    Do you feel like it has smoothed the development process or do you ever find yourself fighting the engine to make it work the way you want?

  7. dislekcia Says:

    @Asher: This is the first time we’ve used Unity, so there was definitely a period of adjustment when we started working on the systems we’d need for the game. In general though, Unity’s been great to use and the new version is much easier to work with from a design perspective. We should have a blog post coming about the more technical aspects of working on DD soon if you’re interested.

  8. Flap Says:

    When you say “script”, is there any chance that users will be able to write their own ?

  9. NylePudding Says:

    I find it very inspiring that this all started off in Game Maker. (When I thought it was a very limited way of making games, of course I was pretty wrong).

    I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Unity DD. 😀

  10. dislekcia Says:

    @Flap: Scripted events are still a little code-heavy, I guess I could abstract things like custom event and handler creation into a scripting-language-style interface, but for now we don’t need that. Maybe later on when the game’s out and we start thinking about exposing the various editors… Maybe.

  11. dislekcia Says:

    @NylePudding: GM is still my prototyping tool of choice when I want to get an idea out quick. I always tell people that if the only thing GM gave you was GML and the huge library of functions, it’d be the best-loved engine hands-down.

  12. NylePudding Says:

    @dislekcia With the new Game Maker Studio I think it will become more widely known. Being able to publish your games to iPhone, iPad, Android and HTML5 will be insane. Hopefully it will add more addition features too. (But I honestly can’t think of many more it could add)

  13. pv Says:

    Wow. Just, wow. Nothing else to say. Oh yeah, one more thing: CAN’T WAIT!

  14. Eric Says:

    You wouldn’t happen to need a beta tester would you? I’m definitely %100 not trying to get a early copy at all. What?

  15. Chris Lee Says:

    Just bought a pre-order of your excellent game. One question though. I actually like the 8-bit art better in some places. Will there be a “Classic” toggle for us old curmudgeons?

  16. dislekcia Says:

    We’ve been toying with the idea of keeping the old art around in some form. The major problem is the way the dungeon generation works now, there’s so much more information provided by the walls themselves (for instance) that it would be quite difficult to make that play nicely with the old graphics. But you never know, maybe we’ll have enough time to figure something out.

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