It’s been quite some time since I last posted about DROD, and in that time, Caravel has released two more episodes, completing the series. They’re even on GOG and Steam now. I played the fourth episode, Gunthro and the Epic Blunder, during this blog’s hiatus, but I haven’t yet played episode 5, The Second Sky, and I’ve been thinking for some time that I should go back and blog my way through the entire series from the beginning, picking up TSS after replaying Gunthro. So now I’ve started the newest release of the first episode, King Dugan’s Dungeon, and I’m already up to Floor 13, the infamous maze level.
On Steam, the first three episodes are only available as DLC for episode 4. This may sound like a strange way to go about things, but it kind of makes sense: Gunthro is a prequel, so new players who buy it before getting its DLC would be seeing events in chronological order. It’s also a much better jumping-on point than episode 1, both because it’s easier and because it’s overall better-designed — I’ve commented before about how it took the designers a while to figure out what DROD really wanted to be. (As a dev I know recently said, “Games don’t know what they are until they ship. They don’t know what they should have been until 6 weeks after that.”) DROD has kind of the same problem as certain webcomics: because the design has noticeably improved over the course of the series, starting at the beginning means getting the worst possible first impression. In webcomics, artists have sometimes dealt with this by going back and redrawing their earlier strips. DROD does something similar: King Dugan’s Dungeon has been revamped multiple times over its history.
The version I’m playing now has some dialogue lines that I don’t remember hearing before. It’s mostly just comments from Beethro about the puzzle content, but there’s at least one bit where you overhear a couple of strangers on the other side of a wall talking about the Tar Authority, linking the mostly-plotless KDD just a little more to the story of the subsequent episodes. There’s new music, supplementing the originals so that each tune gets re-used less often. There’s something of a clash there, because although the new music is in roughly the same style as the old, it’s considerably less dorky. The graphics are of course updated, and take advantage of the colored lighting and fog effects introduced after the original. In addition to all the UI conveniences of later episodes, there’s one new one: sometimes, you can re-open doors in a previously-solved room by just pressing a button, so you don’t have to go through the motions of hitting the right orbs again every time you want to walk through it. This seems to only apply to a few of the most annoying rooms, though.
The biggest change from what I remember is the Challenges. A few rooms on each floor have them, described by scrolls on the floor and tied into the Steam Achievement system: “Clear this room without moving your sword”, say, or “Don’t move diagonally”, or “Only hit the westernmost orb once”. Mind, there’s always been a certain amount of this in DROD. The very first floor of KDD has a room that acts as a sort of tutorial in killing large numbers of roaches in corridors of increasing width, the widest and least defensible one having a small highly-defensible alcove halfway down its length. After you get through it all, there’s a scroll on the floor saying that a true sword master could clear the room without using the alcove. That’s been the case in every version I’ve played. The difference is that now, doing without the alcove is formally recognized.
Sometimes the scroll describing a Challenge is easily accessible from the entrance. Sometimes it’s on the opposite side of a green door, so that you need to solve the room once before you can read it. I suppose the idea is that that some rooms are hard enough that you really need to solve them once without the Challenge before you can start to think about solving them with it. But of course I’ve solved all the rooms once or twice already, if not recently. When I see that inaccessible scroll, I try to guess what the Challenge could be — and on the rare occasion that I guess right, and manage to pass the Challenge before reading the scroll, it’s all the sweeter for it.
Still, for all the little changes, this is basically the old familiar deadly rooms of death. I’ll have more to say about the experience of replaying them, and what I’d forgotten about them, in my next post.