Keeping it Small and Simple


Retrogaming: Dungeon Master

Filed under: Computer Games, Retrogames — Lorenzo E. Danielsson @ 00:54

Are you disappointed with the vast majority of new games that come out? Do you get the feeling that game makers these days focus too much on effects and movie clips and seem to have all but forgotten about the concept of playability? If so, why not get a little retro?

One way to play your old favorites is of course to get a hold of an emulator. You could use VICE to emulate your Commodore 64, or UAE to emulate your old Amiga. I personally use E-UAE these days, which is an experimental version of UAE. It works fairly well, but can be a bit of a job to get to compile from time to time. There are also emulators for other computers as well. I have heard that there are emulators for ZX Spectrum and Atari ST, for instance. But I never owned a Spectrum or an Atari, so don’t know much about these emulators.

It can also be worth checking out if there are any Linux and/or open source remakes of your favorite retrogames. I have spent quite some time searching around on the ‘Net for Linux versions of some of those special games, and managed to find quite a few.

The status of these games is varying. Some of them are mature and fully playable, others not. Also, some of these games are in active development, but some others haven’t seen an update in years. With any abandoned effort, anybody is welcome to step up to the task of picking up where the original developer(s) left off. *hint, hint*

I’m going to do a little series devoted to retrogames. In each post I will talk about a particular game. I will give a little introduction to the original game, although I don’t see the point in going into too much detail (after all, Google is always there). I will also give a few links to some community sites and discuss modern, open source versions of the game (if any). I am starting off with one of my absolute favorites: Dungeon Master.

To me, Dungeon Master ranks among the best games of all time. I fell in love with this game rather late, however. I’m not sure why, but I think at the time I was too busy playing Bard’s Tale to take notice of this game. When I finally did start playing it, I instantly got hooked.

Dungeon master is a real-time role-playing game. It was created by FTL (Faster Than Light) in 1987. As with most success stories, Dungeon master had quite a few sequels. Also, other game houses copied the concept. But the original is the best.

Dungeon Master really was the Doom of its time. When it came out it was way ahead of the competition. This is a fitting comparison, because if you play Doom you can see a little bit of Dungeon Master in it. I wonder if John Carmack was doing all-night DM sessions when he came up with the idea for Doom..?

Since Dungeon Master was (and is) such a great game, there is a really active community out there. For instance, you can find discussion forums related to the game and its clones here. There are also quite a few clones of Dungeon Master.

One that I have been playing quite a bit recently is Dungeon Master Java or DMJ for short. This is an implementation of the original game written entirely in Java. It fairly true to the original, but there are a few differences. The maps are not identical. The graphics have been modernized. Actually, if you search around a bit, you will find that there are various packages available, created by the community that enhance the graphics even further.

I used to have trouble getting DMJ to run properly on JDK5. But with JDK6 it seems to work fine, I haven’t had any problems so far. The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is if there is any way to use the keyboard. It is a bit frustrating to have to play the game with a mouse.

All in all, DMJ is very playable. If you start playing it, keep an eye on what is happening in the community as well. There are quite a few add-ons available. I’m hoping we will see some contributions to the game engine itself because it seems Alan Dale (the original developer) has stopped developing it. I’m not sure about this, but the latest news items on the site date back to 2005. The latest available version is 2.0.1, which is only available for Mac OSX, which I find a bit odd. Wasn’t Java supposed to be cross-platform?

The source code for DMJ is available, at least for the 1.05 version. (There is also a 2.0.1 version available for Mac OSX, but without source code). I am not sure how the code is licensed so I don’t know whether or not it would be okay to redistribute modified versions of the game, but you can definitely make your own private modifications.

Another version of Dungeon Master that I have tried is actually not a clone, but the original code, running on Linux! Turns out somebody went through the process of reversing the entire game from his Atari ST disk, and rewrote the game that way. This game is of course strictly true to the original even down to the game’s graphics, which may look a bit outdated but you should note that by 1987 standards that game looked stunning.

The legal status of this game is a bit fuzzy. The game is reverse-engineered and contains all the original data. If these things matter to you, then you should probably stay clear of this game.

You can find out more about this game and a information about how to get Debian packages here. The repository contains Dungeon Master as well as Chaos Strikes Back, which is an extension to the original game.

There is a GPLed Dungeon Master engine at In order to play this game you will need to extract the original game data yourself. I haven’t tried this game myself so I cannot comment on it. It seems to be abandoned.

Another site you should check out is The Dungeon Master Encyclopedia. This site contains loads of useful information, manuals, tips, as well as information about the clones.

To conclude, I do most of my dungeon slashing in Dungeon Master Java these days. But from time to time I do load up the original in UAE, just to cry a tear or two of pure nostalgia.


1 Comment »

  1. For DMJ keyboard controls, use the numeri keypad: forward = 8 turn left = 7 turn right 9 step left = 4 back = 5 or 2 step right = 6 – hope that helps. Also, DMJ might have been superceded by Return to Chaos, not sure. I prefer DMJ because it’s more easily edited, so you can get your own dungeons up n running a lot easier. RTC has an editor, but it seems a bit tougher to get stuff done. happy gaming! 🙂

    Comment by Kymba — 2008.08.12 @ 21:28

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