Shown behind a slightly closed door at Gamecocks EIEIO this year was Dungeon Hero. As the trailer (after the jump) implies, this forthcoming PC / Xbox 360 game aspires to be the anti-dungeon-crawling dungeon crawler. While no actual gameplay was shown other than some pre-rendered combat animations, the developers on hand certainly had some interesting ideas that could turn the genre on it's head.
Beyond lies a tale of gold, goblins, and tentacle rape. Proceed, if you dare ...
The first and most important element that's being stressed about the virtual world that lies within Dungeon Hero is ... stop me if you've heard this one before ... that it is a "living, breathing place". NPC's will have a set routine that will take them all over the cities and in-game environments and convey a society of characters who have actual lives to live and errands to run. Technically that sounds pretty cool, but in reality it could only be a few simple animations that don't necessarily make you feel like you're amongst intelligent, realistic beings. It's too early to tell.
Another concept that may add a bit of immersion to the experience is the clever use of unique characters. For example, in one of the cutscenes a crazed goblin with stumps for legs is shown rambling about your character. The developers said that later on as you approach the hospital you may see that same character being taken away on a stretcher. A little touch, sure, but it's little things like that that will add up to achieve the bigger picture.
Keeping with that concept of total immersion is the notion of not needing maps to find your target destination. If you're looking for the trenches, keep an eye out for groups of soliders marching in one direction, or wounded troops being carried in the other. The developers insist that after a bit of play time, gamers will become far more familiar with the in-game environments than if they constantly were relying on a mini-map.
The game is not nearly as focused on grinding away in endless, monotonous dungeons as it is about progressing the main storyline. To do this, the developers have opted for interactive comic book-style cinematics. An odd choice, honestly, and one I'm not so sure feels right. They had a couple to show off, and while it does add a stylistic approach to help keep things fresh, it also manages to pull you out of the 3D experience. Strange, for a game that is trying so hard to keep the player immersed in an authentic fantasy world.
As I mentioned, the developers do have great ideas, but as anyone who's ever played Dirge of Cerebus or watched the complete Matrix trilogy, it's all in the execution. When I was a little kid I invented a contraption that could hypothetically cure my mom's cancer while simulataneously creating sentient machines that would line up and down the Mexican border and keep out the "Canadians" with their rocket launcher arms and lazer beam eyes. In reality, I just ended up setting a bunch of cardboard on fire and getting my stepdad arrested for arson. My little sister still has the belt marks to prove it!
The moral of the story is, Dungeon Hero is a good idea with a handful of guys behind it who are enthusiastic about creating something truly different. What they want to make and what they end up making however may very well be two different things.
Click here to listen to the EIEIO developer walkthrough with some additional information about the game, including the different areas and the cooperative campaign mode.