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by Adam Lindsley
Why are randomly generated dungeons still popular after so many years?
Who hasn't picked up and started playing an older game for the first time and reached an impossibly hard dungeon, only to have a friend drop by who, surprise surprise, has already beaten said game, and feels obliged to blurt out the correct directions to the exit. These helpful dungeon-crackers were then usually thanked with a blow to the arm and a teeth-gnashing, "You moron, I was trying to figure it out on my own!"
Why were we so infuriated with this information? Because self-discovery was eliminated, and replaced by word of mouth.
Let's take another case. You're all alone, just you and the game, and you're stuck. You can't find the way out. Trapped in a monster-filled catacomb, you feel your game-playing ethics start to give way. You glance across the room to your…computer. Losing sense of reality, you bolt to the machine and boot up your friendly neighborhood web browser. A few clicks later you're downloading the latest walkthrough, and in no time you're out of the dungeon, boss vanquished, end of story.
Now, is that any way to play a game? Is that any way to best a tough dungeon? You may be relieved to have finished it, but think how superior you'd feel had you just stuck it out a few more hours and figured the dungeon out yourself. The walkthrough took away your sense of self-discovery, and there's no way to get it back.
With randomly generated dungeons, it's a whole other ballgame. Gone are the days when your friends spoil the magic of scouting out the whole dungeon on your own, and walkthroughs suck any sort of challenge from maze-crawling. Like so many games before it, Dark Cloud is free from both of these boundaries. You can play through, beginning to end, safe from loquacious buddies and the overly revealing internet. You can, finally, experience a game.
And not just one time through, either. That's the beauty of this genre: immense replay value. Run through the game the first time, start it up again, and a whole new adventure awaits you. You're allowed to challenge yourself as many times as you play the game; it doesn't get profoundly easier the second or third time around. The entire orientation of the game is rearranged, and no two players will have the same experience, or the same subsequent experience, should they have another go at it. And they're undergoing self-discovery every time.
Just as every run through the game yields new gameplay possibilities, so does each individual gameplaying session. In the majority of games I've played in this category, the dungeons are rearranged every time you shut off the game, or even just exit the dungeon. So if you couldn't get through one way, you could always leave, take a break, come back, and have another, hopefully more successful shot the next time. This feature allows the game's creators to get away with constructing fewer overall dungeons in the game, but we don't feel like we've been gypped, because we're constantly having to rethink our strategy and orientation. It keeps us on our toes, and doesn't let the player become sloppy.
Which is why I'm so excited about Dark Cloud. After a seemingly endless period of poorly executed dungeon-tacklers, the gameplaying community is finally seeing something with real potential for greatness. What little I've seen of this game blew me away. Aesthetically stunning and ingeniously designed, Dark Cloud looks to revive this forsaken genre in a big way.
The release of any game featuring randomly generated dungeons sends a wave of anticipation through the genre's enthusiasts. One of, if not the biggest, draw to any of these type of games is the thrill of exploration that so abundantly accompanies them. Discovering for ourselves the indefinite number of possibilities that lie ahead is what keeps us coming back again and again.
What split this from the rest of the field was simply due to the fact that Adam answered both parts to what we asked, and from what he did, he did it quite well. With a mix of the rhetoric, a little humour and some deep opinion, this particular piece answered the questions best.
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