Dungeon Master (video game)

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Dungeon Master
Dungeon Master Box Art.jpg
Developer(s) FTL Games
Victor Interactive Software (X68000) [1]
Publisher(s) FTL Games
Victor Interactive Software (X68000) [1]
Director(s) Doug Bell
Producer(s) Wayne Holder
Designer(s) Doug Bell
Programmer(s) Doug Bell
Dennis Walker
Mike Newton
Artist(s) Andrew Jaros
Composer(s) Wayne Holder [2]
Platform(s) Amiga, Apple IIGS, [3] Atari ST, MS-DOS (x86), SNES, TurboGrafx-CD, Sharp X68000, PC-9801, FM Towns
Genre(s) Role-playing video game
Mode(s) Single player

Dungeon Master is a realtime role-playing video game featuring a pseudo-3D first-person perspective. It was developed and published by FTL Games for the Atari ST in 1987, [5] almost identical Amiga and PC (DOS) ports following in 1988 and 1992.

In computer science, real-time computing (RTC), or reactive computing describes hardware and software systems subject to a "real-time constraint", for example from event to system response. Real-time programs must guarantee response within specified time constraints, often referred to as "deadlines". The correctness of these types of systems depends on their temporal aspects as well as their functional aspects. Real-time responses are often understood to be in the order of milliseconds, and sometimes microseconds. A system not specified as operating in real time cannot usually guarantee a response within any timeframe, although typical or expected response times may be given.

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

2.5D simulation of the appearance of being three-dimensional

The two-and-a-half-dimensional perspective is either 2D graphical projections and similar techniques used to cause images or scenes to simulate the appearance of being three-dimensional (3D) when in fact they are not, or gameplay in an otherwise three-dimensional video game that is restricted to a two-dimensional plane with a limited access to the third dimension. By contrast, games using 3D computer graphics without such restrictions are said to use true 3D.


Dungeon Master reportedly sold 40,000 copies in its year of release alone, [6] and went on to become the ST's best-selling game of all time. The game became the prototype for the genre of the 3D dungeon crawlers with notable clones like Eye of the Beholder . [7]

Video game clone

A video game clone is either a video game similar to, or inspired, by a previous popular game or series. Usually the term is derogatory, implying a lack of originality and creativity; however, an intentional clone may be anything from a "ripoff" to an honorary homage to its exemplar. The accusation of a game being a clone carries the implication that its developers or publishers try to profit off of the exemplar's success. It may even take the form of an allegation of plagiarism or fraud, which could be taken to court.

<i>Eye of the Beholder</i> (video game) 1990 video game

Eye of the Beholder is a role-playing video game for personal computers and video game consoles developed by Westwood Associates. It was published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. in 1991 for the DOS operating system and later ported to the Amiga, the Sega CD and the SNES. The Sega CD version features a soundtrack composed by Yuzo Koshiro. A port to the Atari Lynx handheld was developed by NuFX in 1993, but was not released. In 2002 the game was an adaptation of the same name was developed by Pronto Games for the Game Boy Advance.


Dungeon Master gameplay screenshot on SNES Dungeon Master Gameplay Screenshot.png
Dungeon Master gameplay screenshot on SNES

In contrast to the traditional turn-based approach that was, in 1987, most common, Dungeon Master added real-time combat elements (akin to Active Time Battle). [8] Other factors in immersion were the use of sound effects to indicate when a creature was nearby, and (primitive) dynamic lighting. Abstract Dungeons and Dragons style experience points and levels were eschewed in favor of a system where the characters' skills were improved directly via using them. Dungeon Master was not the first game to introduce these features. Dungeons of Daggorath for the TRS-80 Color Computer first employed them in 1982. Dungeon Master was, however, responsible for popularizing these elements. Other features of Dungeon Master included allowing players to directly manipulate objects and the environment by clicking the mouse in the enlarged first-person view. [9] It also introduced some novel control methods including the spell casting system, which involved learning sequences of runes which represented the form and function of a spell's effect. For example, a fireball spell was created by mixing the fire symbol with the wing symbol. This kind of attention to detail and focus on the user interface was typical of the game and helped create an often captivating sense of craft and ingenuity.

<i>Dungeons & Dragons</i> Fantasy role-playing game

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR). The game has been published by Wizards of the Coast since 1997. It was derived from miniature wargames, with a variation of the 1971 game Chainmail serving as the initial rule system. D&D's publication is commonly recognized as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry.

<i>Dungeons of Daggorath</i> 1982 video game

Dungeons of Daggorath is one of the first real-time, first-person perspective role-playing video games. It was produced by DynaMicro for the TRS-80 Color Computer in 1982. This game is mentioned in the novel Ready Player One, but does not appear in its film adaptation.

TRS-80 Color Computer line of home computers

The RadioShack TRS-80 Color Computer is a line of home computers based on the Motorola 6809 processor. The Tandy Color Computer line started in 1980 with what is now called the CoCo 1 and ended in 1991 with the more powerful CoCo 3. All three CoCo models maintained a high level of software and hardware compatibility, with few programs written for the older model being unable to run on the newer ones.

While many previous games such as Alternate Reality: The Dungeon , The Bard's Tale , Ultima, and Wizardry offered Dungeons & Dragons -style role-playing, Dungeon Master established several new standards for role-playing video games and first-person video games in general, [9] such as the paper doll interface.

Alternate Reality (AR) is an unfinished role-playing video game series that has achieved cult status among many fans of RPGs. It was created by Philip Price, who formed a development company called Paradise Programming. Published by Datasoft, AR: The City was released in 1985 and AR: The Dungeon was released in 1987. Price was unable to complete the second game in the series, and The Dungeon was finished by Ken Jordan and Dan Pinal. Gary Gilbertson created the music for both games.

<i>The Bards Tale</i> (1985 video game) 1985 role-playing video game

Tales of the Unknown: Volume I, better known by its subtitle The Bard's Tale, is a fantasy role-playing video game designed and programmed by Michael Cranford, produced by Interplay Productions in 1985 and distributed by Electronic Arts. It spawned The Bard's Tale series of games and books.

<i>Ultima</i> (series) Role-playing video games series

Ultima is a series of open world fantasy role-playing video games from Origin Systems, Inc. Ultima was created by Richard Garriott. The series is one of the most significant in computer game history and is considered, alongside Wizardry and Might and Magic, to be one of the establishers of the CRPG genre. Several games of the series are considered seminal entries in their genre, and each installment introduced new innovations which then were widely copied by other games. Electronic Arts own the brand.

Another factor in its popularity may have been the imaginative mythology, with players often reporting a nurturing identity with their chosen characters. Nancy Holder, wife of producer Wayne Holder, wrote the storyline in the manual (from a base scenario suggested by Michael Newton and the FTL team). She is a successful novelist, and has written for television series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer , Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Smallville .

Nancy Holder is an American writer and the author of several novels, including numerous tie-in books based on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's also written fiction related to several other science fiction and fantasy shows, including Angel and Smallville.

<i>Sabrina the Teenage Witch</i> (1996 TV series) American sitcom

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is an American sitcom based on the Archie Comics series of the same name. The show premiered on September 27, 1996, on ABC to over 17 million viewers in its "T.G.I.F." line-up.

Smallville is an American television series developed by writer-producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, based on the DC Comics character Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The series, initially broadcast by The WB, premiered on October 16, 2001. After Smallville's fifth season, The WB and UPN merged to form The CW, the series' later United States broadcaster. Smallville, which ended its tenth and final season on May 13, 2011, follows Clark Kent in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, before he becomes known as Superman. The first four seasons focus on Clark and his friends in high school. After season five Smallville ventures into adult settings, eventually focusing on his career at the Daily Planet and introducing other DC comic-book superheroes and villains.

Many reviewers considered Dungeon Master as the best example of its genre, despite the many clones that arrived to challenge it. First of these was Bloodwych (1989), featuring similar gameplay but adding a mode allowing two simultaneous players on one machine. Other notable clones included Captive and Eye of the Beholder . [7]

<i>Bloodwych</i> video game

Bloodwych is a dungeon role-playing video game, a dungeon crawler, developed for the Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. Its box featured artwork by Chris Achilleos. The plotline identifies the player as a champion of Trazere who, after recruiting up to three fellow champions, travels through dungeons and mazes fighting creatures along the way to find and destroy the evil Zendick, and banish the Lord of Entropy.

<i>Captive</i> (video game) video game released in 1990

Captive is a science fiction role-playing video game released by Mindscape in 1990. A Dungeon Master "clone", it featured pseudo 3D realtime graphics from a first-person perspective.


Many champions have been sent into the dungeon with the quest to recover Librasulus (the Grey Lord) firestaff. With the firestaff, Librasulus can take physical form again and defeat Lord Chaos. The player is Theron, the apprentice of the Grey Lord, that goes into the dungeon with the task to resurrect four champions, and guide them through the dungeon, to find the firestaff and defeat Lord Chaos.

Hall of Champions

As Theron, the player cannot progress past the first section of the game until they have selected up to four champions from a small dungeon containing 24 mirrors, each containing a frozen champion. The frozen champions are based upon a variety of fantasy archetypes to allow diversity within the player's party. [10]

Alternative ending

If the player finds the firestaff and uses it to defeat Lord Chaos, this will be the real ending of the game. But there is also an alternative ending if the player finds the firestaff and then leaves the dungeon without destroying Lord Chaos.

Kid's dungeon

You can access a small, simple dungeon by holding a key or 2 during the loading screen when the FTL logo appears (The keys vary each version e.g. Amiga is Enter), the Kid's dungeon's mobs are very weak and the game ends after you slay the dragon, in the 'Dragon's den'. The dragon takes merely a single FUL bomb to kill. (Said item is a portable version of a fireball, the same way VEN potions are of the poison cloud spell. FUL bombs unlike VEN potions cannot be created though game documentation suggests they were intended to be able to.)



Originally, Dungeon Master was started with the name Crystal Dragon coded in Pascal, and targeted the Apple II platform. Doug Bell and Andy Jaros (Artwork) began development in their development studio PVC Dragon, before they joined in 1983 FTL Games. [2] It was finished there in C programming language and published in 1987 for the Atari ST first. A slightly updated Amiga version was released the following year, which was the first video game to use 3D sound effects.

Releases and ports

Dungeon Master was ported later to many platforms like PC, Apple IIGS, TurboGrafx-CD, SNES, Sharp X68000, PC-9801 and FM Towns. The game was also translated from English into German, French, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

According to "The Definitive CDTV Retrospective: Part II" [11] by Peter Olafson, Dungeon Master was ported to the Amiga CDTV but this version was never completed because FTL could not obtain reliable information from Commodore about saving games to memory cards. Dungeon Master was also ported to Macintosh but never released. There exists a prototype for the Atari Lynx under the name Dungeon Slayers. [12]


The packaging cover art was designed and illustrated by David R. Darrow, [13] for which Andy Jaros posed as the leftmost character pulling on the torch. The woman in the scene was Darrow's wife, Andrea, and the muscular man in the background is unknown, but hired by Darrow from a local fitness club. [14] The painting itself is 25 to 30 inches high and doesn’t contain the word "Master". Darrow’s painting portrays a scene from the prologue in the manual for Dungeon Master. It shows the three (or four) main characters' last few minutes alive, and is a portrayal of the player’s challenge to defeat the antagonist, Lord Chaos. The heroes in the painting are Halk the Barbarian, Syra Child of Nature, Alex Ander – and Nabi the Prophet who’s been reduced to a bunch of skulls.

Soundtrack album

A soundtrack album, titled Dungeon Master: The Album, was released later. This album featured music composed by Darrell Harvey, Rex Baca, and Kip Martin. [15] The original ST version and its faithful Amiga and PC ports contain no music. The album features music composed for the FM Towns game, as well as FM Towns version of Chaos Strikes Back , and some original tracks that were inspired by the games. [16]


While Dungeon Master itself was inspired by early Ultima games, [2] it amazed Ultima developer Origin Systems's employees; Origin founder Richard Garriott said that he was "ecstatic" at discovering the "neat new things I could do" in the game. It influenced Ultima VI 's graphical user interface and seamless map, [17] and the later Ultima Underworld . [18] Game journalist Niko Nirvi wrote that no 3D role-playing title before Ultima Underworld (1992) could challenge Dungeon Master as a game.

To date, Dungeon Master retains a small but faithful following online, with several fan-made ports and remakes available or in development. [19] Notable reception received a faithful reconstruction of the Atari ST version, called "CSBWin", which was released in 2001. Reverse engineered in six months work from the original by Paul R. Stevens, the available source code of CSBwin led to many ports for modern platforms like Windows and Linux. [20] In 2014, Christophe Fontanel released another reverse engineering project which tries to recreate all existing versions and ports. [21]

Series overview

Titles in the Dungeon Master Series
Dungeon Master1987 Atari ST Amiga, Apple IIGS, PC (MS-DOS), SNES, TurboGrafx-CD, Sharp X68000, PC-9801, FM Towns
Dungeon Master: Chaos Strikes Back 1989?Amiga, Atari ST, Sharp X68000, PC-9801, FM Towns
Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest 1992 TurboGrafx N/Amodified version of Dungeon Master
Dungeon Master II: The Legend of Skullkeep 1993?Amiga, PC (MS-DOS), PC-9801, Mac OS, Sega Mega-CD, FM Towns
Dungeon Master Nexus 1998 Sega Saturn N/A


Dungeon Master debuted on 15 December 1987 on the Atari ST, and by early 1988 was a strong seller, becoming the best-selling game for the computer of all time; Bell estimated that at one point more than half of all Atari ST owners had purchased the game. Because of FTL's sophisticated copy protection, many who otherwise pirated their software had to purchase Dungeon Master to play the game. The Amiga version was the first prominent game to require 1 MB of RAM, likely causing many to purchase additional memory; at least one manufacturer of Amiga memory bundled Dungeon Master with its memory-expansion kit. As with Wizardry, many others offered for sale strategy guides, game trainers, and map editors, competing with FTL's own hint book. [4]

Hosea Battles, Jr. of Computer Gaming World in 1988 praised the attention to detail in the dungeons' graphics, allowing players to "practically feel the damp chill of the dungeons portrayed", as well as those of the monsters, including the multiple facial expressions on the ogres. He said the control system works "extremely well" and "one's adrenaline really flows because the game is in real-time." Battles also praised the extensive use of sound effects, uncommon to RPGs. He complained that the manual does not describe monsters or their attributes, of a "frustrating" shortage of food and water replenishments and that the lack of a map makes the game "extremely difficult". Battles called the game "fantastic" and said "It is a welcome addition to any fantasy player's library. Those who want a good fantasy/role-playing game will love this one." [22] Scorpia stated in the magazine in 1992 that the newly released IBM PC version's graphics "are surprisingly good, all things considered" despite the game's age, but wrote that "No endgame has ever given me so much trouble or frustration". Although she believed that the game "is still eminently worth playing, even years later[, and] still has something to offer the seasoned adventurer", because of the endgame Scorpia "can't give it a blanket recommendation". [23] In 1993 she stated that "the game still holds up well after seven years, even graphically, and is worth playing today", but because of the ending was "not for the easily-frustrated". [24]

Computer and Video Games in 1988 called the story a "cliché" but praised the graphics, sound and controls. The reviewer said Dungeon Master is an example of a title which "changes the way we think about games" and a "must for all roleplayers". [25] Antic called the game as "revolutionary" as Zork and Flight Simulator II , citing "spectacular" graphics and stating that the game was "almost worth buying for the sound-effects alone". Despite the "commonplace" story "where once again, an Evil Wizard has taken over control of the world", the magazine advised readers to "buy this game". [26] Advanced Computing Entertainment said the graphics are "largely repetitive" but "wonderfully drawn" and wrote the "Sound is sparse but the effects are great." The reviewer called it a "thrilling game with plenty in it to keep you searching, fighting and pondering for a long time." He summarised the game as a "huge, immensely playable and very atmospheric mixture of role-playing and adventure. If you've been looking for a real-time role-playing game that manages to keep you interested for long periods of time, then your prayers have been answered." [27] The Games Machine wrote: "the innovative character selection system and icon display are both neatly implemented and quick to use", praised the "superb" atmosphere - enhanced by the spare but apt sound effects - and called the game universe "believable because of its details". The magazine praised the color and clarity of the monster graphics and the shading of the surroundings. It called the story and setting a "wholly engrossing scenario [which] creates a complete world which can be manipulated at will: its depth fully reflects the two years it took to program it. The presentation - an interesting and evocative novella neither too involved to prove turbid not too short to be unhelpful - is superb." The reviewer summarised: "Dungeon Master is a role-player's dream, but capable of providing a good deal of enjoyment for any ST owner." [28] STart told readers to "be prepared to shed every preconception you ever had about computer games. This is Dungeon Master". Noting the strong sales, the reviewer called it "a true video game phenomenon" and reported that "not talking to my boyfriend for a week because he lost our master spell list was certainly not an overreaction". [29]

Kati Hamza of Zzap!64 said of the Amiga version: "The first-person perspective ensures an incredibly realistic atmosphere - you just can't help really getting into the feeling of walking through damp echoing caverns looking for ghosts." The reviewer also said: "The puzzles are incredibly devious, the spell system is really flexible and the need to practise magic and spells gives the whole thing that extra-special depth." The reviewer asserted: "This has to be the most amazing game of all-time, anywhere, ever". In the same issue Gordon Houghton said: "This is just about the most incredible game I've ever seen. When you pick it up you find you lose whole days of your life." He said: "The best time to play it is late at night in a room by yourself - it's guaranteed to scare the life out of you. It's like Gauntlet in 3D, but about a hundred times better. If you enjoy arcade adventures, RPGs or combat games, but it: it's the perfect combination of all three." Reviewer Maff Evans professed to be little enthused by RPGs generally but said "I know a brilliant game when I see one and this is a brilliant game." He praised the scares delivered by ambushing monsters and said "you'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be affected by the atmosphere". The magazine complained that saving games is "a bit laboured" but praised the "extremely detailed and accessible" controls, "interactive, detailed and extremely atmospheric" scenery and said the clarity of the graphics made the game an unusually accessible RPG. It summarized: "you'll be playing for months" and said Dungeon Master was "The best game we've ever seen". [30]

Also reviewing the Amiga version, Graham Kinsey of Amazing Computing wrote that Dungeon Master "completely blows away any other RPG on the Amiga market today, and may do for some time". [31] Dave Eriksson of Amiga Computing praised the "brilliant" graphics, sound effects and replay-value and said "Dungeon Master is the most stunning role-playing game I have seen on the Amiga". [32] Antic's Amiga Plus felt the game "captures the essence of Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games". The reviewer praised the "dazzling" graphics, called the user-friendly controls "a real joy" and said the game was the "best graphics adventure for the Amiga to date." [33] Your Amiga called the sound "extremely well done" and said the "most striking feature of the game is the attention to detail". The reviewer said called the game "amazing" and recommended: "If you never buy another game, by [sic] this one." [34]

Andy Smith of Advanced Computing Entertainment several months after its release called Dungeon Master "one of the all time classics" and said "What makes Dungeon Master really special (apart from the marvellous 3D graphics and eerie sound effects) are the puzzles". [35] The game was reviewed in 1988 in Dragon #136 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4½ out of 5 stars. [36] The Lessers reviewed the PC/MS-DOS version in 1993 in Dragon #195, giving this version 5 stars. [37] In 1997, ten years after release, Dungeon Master got again a 5 from 5 stars score in a review. [38]


Dungeon Master received the Special Award for Artistic Achievement from Computer Gaming World in 1988. [39] [40] It achieved the top place in the magazine's game rankings system, [41] and was entered into its hall of fame in November 1989. [42] In 1990 the game received the second-highest number of votes in a survey of Computer Gaming World readers' "All-Time Favorites". [43] In 1996, the magazine named Dungeon Master the 49th best game ever. [44]

The following is a comprehensive list of other awards received by the game. [45]

See also

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