Friday, September 25, 2009

The Infinite Dungeon

Do you know ADOM? You probably don’t. ADOM is the acronym for “Ancient Domains of Mystery” and a brilliant single player game. I played it quite a lot during my studies in England. The big advantage of ADOM is that it runs on every computer.

That’s mostly because of the graphics – or the lack thereof. ADOM is a rogue-like game, which means that the entire graphics are made out of ASCII characters. You play an @. Dragons are represented by a D, rats by an r and so on.

You can click the link above and have a look, but you will most probably not end up playing ADOM. Even if you managed to get used to the graphics there’s some other problem, especially if you are accustomed to playing modern MMOs: ADOM is hardcore!
Not this kind of baby-hardcore Darkfall is, but real hardcore. If you die, you’re dead. Ouch!

Now, why do I blog about ADOM? I don’t. The headline of this post is the infinite dungeon of ADOM. ADOM uses unpredictable dungeons that are created the very second you enter them. And ADOM does have one legendary dungeon: The infinite dungeon.

You can play ADOM the trivial way (considered trivial by ADOM community standards!) and try to safe the world. Alternatively, you can try to kill the evil guy and take his place. To accomplish that you need – among other things – a relic from the infinite dungeon, that isn’t really infinite. It does have 66 levels – one level being a map that is connected to the map above and the map below. At level 66 you will finally get to kill some ugly monster and retrieve the relic. Then you still need to survive the way back up, which is not trivial, since there are no teleporters. I only managed to do this once and the Ragnaros first kill pales in contrast to that.
I always wondered: What is the fascination of ADOM?

It looks ugly, not immersive at all. It always tells exactly the same story; although using different dungeon maps. It does allow you to play some 20 classes or so, which are not balanced at all. Try to play through it as a bard and you’ll realize it is significantly more difficult than to play through it as a mage (although the mage is quite weak at the beginning).

The classes are not meant to be balanced – they are meant to be immersive. There’s the class called tourist. He starts with an unholy amount of cash, but is terrible at everything. His only real advantage is the flash from his camera that can blind creatures. But you better don’t try this at an angry red dragon; it works on giant rats.

ADOM is not twitchy since it is turn based. As long as you do not press a button nothing happens. Therefore ADOM plays like chess at times. You need to think in advance. Is that what I would MMORPGs to play like? No!

But I do think that MMORPGs can learn from rogue-like games. Especially when it comes to immersive dungeon crawls. I would pay quite a lot of money the month to play ADOM with modern MMO graphics and several of my best friends, but I would pay even more for an MMORPG that offers me the chance to play this way in addition to battlegrounds, daily dungeons and raids and all those things we have become used to.
There is a market gap for unpredictable immersive dungeon crawls in modern MMORPGs that can be completed with a party of 4 – 6 players and become more and more difficult the farther you manage to descent.

My suggestion: An MMORPG that contains among other things an infinite, unpredictable dungeon that becomes more and more difficult the lower you manage to descent. If you wipe you end up two levels closer to the surface and all levels are re-created. I’m sure we can come up with an immersive explanation. The lower you manage to get, the better the loot that drops. You can log out whenever you want and log in at that exact position again. Since your party is small the dungeon can be narrow and dark at times and the enemies can be many without you losing the tactical overview.

The most dominant memory I have about the infinite dungeon is this one: In ADOM you will sometimes (rarely) find the altar of a god while you explore the underworld. If you manage to lure a monster on top of that altar you can pray to the god and he will consider this an offer and the monster will be consumed by fire and lightning. That’s a great way to improve your standing with this god - especially if the monster is a powerful one. You can become the gods avatar on earth and gain incredible powers if you do this and other things. It’s probably easier and faster to beat the game without becoming an avatar, but it sure is fun if you manage to do it.

It was at level 64 of the infinite dungeon and once again new monster types that I had never seen before populated the dark places around me. I tried to battle against an Ancient Chaos Moloch who blocked the only passage to the next level. But he was just too resistant against my magic and hit like a monster truck. Fortunately I remembered the altar a few rooms before and, since molochs were quite slow, I managed to lure him on that altar – or so I thought. When there was only one step – that is one ASCII character – left, the moloch moved on top of the altar and he kicked the altar and smashed it, bolts of flame and lightning crashed down on him and I listened to the bloodcurdling screams of a raging god. The Moloch, however, slowly continued to move in my direction. It was that very moment that I started to run for the exit - my life was at stake!

If a rogue-like game can do this to me. Why can’t Anub’Arak?


  1. To be honest I totally agree.

    I don't want stupid hard dungeons- nor stupidly easy dungeons-- I want a dungeon that transitions into harder difficultie the closer you get to the boss (which, makes sense, you should leave your best guards till last!).

    Its also more fun because it means a not so well geared/good group can get a couple of kills at first, then go back and get better, then as they gain experience there likely going to get the next kill as long as they up their game a bit each time.

    Its a cool idea- The ASCAII characters would defonately put me off this game though.

  2. Hi, nice blog, insightful articles, keep it up !

  3. You have to think that your playing ADOM FOR the infinite dungeon.

    Think instead if you were playing a game for some other reason and the infinite dungeon had some object you needed. Then it getting harder is just frustrating, since your not playing it for the infinite dungeon.

    People play wow to accumulate crap - 'hard' is just frustrating, because they don't play wow for it. I think.