First Jimpressions of Dungeon Hero and a fireside chat with Firefly

Last week, I had the privelage of getting incredibly lost in London before staggering into the Soho Hotel, rain-soaked and hungry, to see how the boys at Firefly are getting on with their Gamecock-published Gobling smasher, Dungeon Hero. A lot of the information you can already glean from Nick’s EIEO preview from last year, but if you really must know more, I’m here for you, friends.

How’s it looking so far? How close is Firefly to making Dungeon Hero a different kind of RPG? How did I manage to take a wrong turn in Soho and end up at High Holburn? All these questions, except for the last one, shall be answered after the jump.

Firefly’s presentation opened up with a comic book-style cutscene telling the story of a Goblin doctor who tends to those wounded during a brutal conflict. Using still images in an animated style that echoes Metal Gear Solid‘s digital graphic novel, the most striking thing about Dungeon Hero‘s narrative is how dark it all is. I’m not talking dark in the cliché sense either — Dungeon Hero‘s world is a truly brutal and depressing place, and the imagery it conjures up borders on the disturbing.

The Goblin hospital that we were introduced to, for example, showed us some of the horrors of war that afflict our green-skinned friends. On one stretcher, some poor chap had inhaled a gas that was liquefying him from the inside out. Another sat laughing in a chair with his legs removed. He was giggling deliriously because he’d just seen a human, the “hero” of the game’s name, tear apart a squad of enemies. “We could use a hero, human or otherwise,” the goblin doctor remarks, before moving on, quite disaffected.

Really striking stuff, and I feel that the stylized narrative could prove to be Dungeon Hero‘s biggest selling point if the rest of exposition is pulled off with such style. Style, of course, only gets you so far and Firefly was eager to show us the game in motion.

Development is still in the early stages, but it’s certainly looking really good so far. There were bugs of course, and combat still looks a little sparse, but it’s shaping up to be a graphically pleasing number and the basics are all in place. The one thing Firefly wants to capture in the game is a sense of logic, to be as real as a videogame about goblins can be. “In a typical dungeon crawler, you could get a goblin and a spider together in a room with a treasure chest,” states the game’s lead designer, Simon Bradbury. “How did the goblin get in the room with the spider? Why hasn’t the spider eaten the goblin? Why is the treasure in a chest, why haven’t they tried to hide it or bury it?”

Okay, so it sounds like the petulant child who watches Tom & Jerry and says “That wouldn’t happen in real life,” but trying to use that level of logic in a game is a fresh approach in a medium where we take random treasure chests and bears carrying gold for granted. Firefly intends to create an atmosphere that feels alive, and even though it’s only in the early stages, we got to see some examples of the team’s ambition. As our hero walked through the trenches, we saw Goblins playing on guitars, doctors sawing off limbs and generals planning their next move. Simon promised that the trenches would be even more alive in the future, as goblins run past on stretchers and have conversations. Of course, the games industry is full of promises and claims of “we will have this and this and this,” so I took an opportunity to sit down with Simon and chat to him about how Firefly is going to live up to its ambitions.

“We’re using very simple methods,” answered Simon when grilled and accused of dirty lies. “We’re not looking to introduce some advanced AI. A lot of the groundwork has already been done in previous games like Stronghold, where you click on a guy and he follows his own set path and does his thing.”

So, rather than actually create a super-duper, AI-led, living and breathing world, is it more about creating illusions, adding a lot of activity to make things seem more alive than they are?

“Exactly. Everything has its set path, and moves between those points, but there’s going to be a lot going on.”

Simple but effective. What about combat though? Simon claims that the combat right now is very much in a state of flux, and he said it at least eight times which is why I remember it. Dungeon Hero is all about drawing depth from the battle itself as an entity rather than relying on heavy combos. Fighting is intended to be incredibly simple, so that if you want to use a headbutt, it’ll be mapped to a single button and can be used at any time by players of any skill level.

“We don’t want huge combos where only a few people can do them,” Simon expounds. “We want everyone to be able to see the cool moves, rather than just pull off an attack entirely by accident and have no idea how they did it.”

During the walkthrough, we were shown some combat against bipedal rats, enemy goblins and an early boss monster. With combat so simplistic, one might wonder where the depth went. I asked how they replaced the depth of combos with the depth of the fight as a whole

“In a lot of circumstances, there will be spawn points that you have to close. You can’t keep fighting in one spot forever, since some goblins will break through your defenses, you’ll take some sneak hits, and eventually die,” I was informed. “Most of the combat is against swarms, so you have to work out where you want to go in a fight and battle your way through it. You can say, ‘right, I have to go over there to close that point, so I need to fight through to there.’ It’s a very strategic approach.”

As we said in our last look at the game, Dungeon Hero isn’t about item drops. There will be some form of weapons upgrade, but Firefly was not at liberty to tell me anything else. Leveling up will of course be present, but the game is more about leveling to unlock new attacks rather than presenting you with a mass of statistics. You will be able to acquire new moves as you level up, and can improve your prowess with the attacks you achieve as your character progresses.

Dungeon Hero is shaping up to be a game with a lot of potential. Firefly has wanted to do a different kind of dungeon game for some time (confessing envy that Bullfrog got in first with Dungeon Keeper, you heard it here first) and by employing simplistic methods mixed in with a little logic, looks close to achieving all that the team has set out to. We have some screenshots for you to check out as well, and look forward to bringing you more Dungeon Hero impressions when we next get to check it out.

Jim Sterling