The first free prototype of indie developer QCF Design's Desktop Dungeons was released early in 2010. After undergoing numerous tweaks, additions, and fixes, the team decided to develop sort of an "ultimate" version of the game, which includes innumerable updates, enhanced presentation, and basically just more of the sorts of features that made the alpha version so popular among fans in the first place.
I had a chance to get my hands on the most recent build of the game at IndieCade 2011 and chat with developer Marc Luck about how development of the Desktop Dungeons beta is coming along, as well as what fans can expect from their future dungeon-crawls.
Desktop Dungeons takes the classic roguelike formula and boils it down into bite-sized 10-15 minute play sessions. The core principle of the game is to extract all of the fun and rewarding parts of the punishingly difficult genre, and distill them into a much more accessible experience. In true roguelike form, each of the game's dungeons have randomly generated layouts, monsters, and loot, and players can select from a number of character races and classes, each of which carry specific bonuses.
Playing the game is a blast. Turn-based strategy games are often likened to super-advanced games of Chess, and while Desktop Dungeons is a single-player-only experience, the game's exploration and combat must both be done with careful consideration. Uncovering new tiles restores both health and mana, meaning that simply exploring while at full health will eliminate future (often necessary) opportunities to heal after a tough battle. The monsters themselves are rooted in place, but will also regenerate as the player explores. Taking down monsters that are a higher level than your character is possible (and will confer extra bonuses), but can be tricky to do without dying.
The game is also surprisingly funny, and its humor comes through in much of the descriptive text it provides for items and monsters. "All of our writing tries to be very light-hearted and comedic," Luck affirmed. "The main premise that we came up with is that you've crafted this kingdom, and its main economic activity is exporting dead monster bits. That's why you're constantly creating all these new guilds and things that all are there just to support the core economic activity of going out, killing stuff, and bringing the parts back."
Though my time with the most recent beta build was relatively short, it was still long enough to complete two dungeons (or die trying!). Utilizing two different races and classes--a Dwarven warrior and an Elven mage--proved to require noticeably different approaches. As one might expect, the mage was much more effective when hurling powerful spells from range; the warrior was a toe-to-toe confrontational expert. While there are a ton of options at hand, the best character selection for dungeon crawling is left entirely to the player.
"What we've done, is we try to give all the classes something interesting to differentiate them, and make it so that you do have to play the game differently with all of them," Luck confirmed.
"Killing the level 10 boss in the dungeon is generally the ultimate goal," Luck continued. "You find the boss, kill it, and then you'll get a monster trophy which you can take back out into the meta-game--The Kingdom--and use that money that you sell that monster trophy for to upgrade your buildings, get more classes, get more races... that sort of thing."
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If you're looking to get your hands on some quick, roguelike fun, Desktop Dungeons is currently available for pre-order on the developer's site in both standard ($10) and collector's ($20) editions. Pre-ordering actually gives you access to the most current beta, as well as all future updates. If you're still undecided, but want to check it out--which I highly recommend--you can also grab the free alpha version for PC or Mac.