There’s a pattern I’ve referred to before as “the DROD model”. In this model, each chapter of a game introduces a new element or concept, be it a monster, an environmental feature, or even just a particular combination of previously-introduced elements that interact in some interesting way. The chapter is then entirely devoted to exploiting this theme for all it’s worth, exploring the different uses that the game designer can put it to and the various ways the player can be made to deal with it. Having been thus introduced, it is added to the palette of things available for general use in later chapters with different themes.
This is a pretty common pattern in puzzle games, but I think of it as the DROD model because the DROD games exhibit it so clearly and thoroughly. So now that I’m replaying King Dugan’s Dungeon, I’m a little surprised at how long it takes to find it.
The first floor of the dungeon with an obvious theme is Floor 6. Floor 6 is based on the gimmick of reusing room layouts, keeping the walls and floors the same but varying the puzzles via placement of monsters and orbs and force arrows and the like. I wouldn’t really call this an example of the DROD model, because although this reuse is a striking feature of the floor as a whole, it doesn’t exactly factor into the individual puzzles, and isn’t particularly reusable. (The same can be said about floor 13, the infamous maze level.) Floor 7 comes closer to the ideal: it introduces serpents, and is mainly made up of serpent puzzles — but then it throws in a couple of rooms populated entirely by roaches and evil eyes. You don’t get a floor dedicated entirely to serpent puzzles until floor 12, which fails the model simply because serpents aren’t new — although I suppose you could argue that the theme of floor 12 is really long serpents. Floor 8 fits the model completely: it introduces tar, and every single room in it is all about tar. And the game seems to be mostly pretty dedicated to its theme levels from that point on, except for conspicuously backtracking on its new-found commitment in floor 10. This floor introduces spiders, and starts with a couple of dedicated spider rooms with lots of spiders in them, but then it throws in a bunch of roach rooms, even as the rooms remain thematically spidery in shape.
What I find especially intriguing is that the introduction of monsters in the first few levels follow a different commonly-seen pattern. The first time you see a wraithwing, you see only one. It’s in a room full of roaches, on a floor full of rooms full of roaches, and it’s a little while before you see any more. It’s like the game wants to get you used to wraithwings bit by bit by using them as a seasoning on top of roach puzzles before it makes them the main topic. Evil eyes get a similar treatment. This is a pattern that I mostly associate with action games and CRPGS, things based on escalating power. In those games, new enemies appear sparingly at first and become gradually more numerous because that’s how the game ramps up the difficulty. Like, you’ve shown you can beat a Biomechanoid, but can you beat two at once? Six? A whole battalion of them? OK, what if we add a Major Biomechanoid to the mix? Anyway, for the most part, DROD doesn’t really work like that. There is a significant difference between slaying one goblin and fending off three at once, due to the way that they try to flank you, but apart from that, number isn’t strongly related to difficulty. Some of the most difficult puzzles I’ve seen are ones where all you have to do is slay a single roach. The infamous maze level, for example.