"Give me your most evil laugh," I say to Benjamin Rauscher, the head of studio for Realm Forge.
"Ber-heh-heh-heh-hur-heh-hah," he chortles. "No, it's not deep enough."
"Need to throw in a cough there, too," I suggest. Rauscher agrees.
His Kalypso in-house studio is making Dungeons 3, due later this year, which fans recall as a series that stepped in when Dungeon Keeper had been away from PCs for more than a decade and wasn’t coming back anytime soon. The first game, 2011's Dungeons, disappointed some hardcore fans for not being a strict homage to the original.
The second, launched in 2015, added an Overworld for the user to "evilify," a departure from Dungeon Keeper that won back some. It also helped Kalypso that Dungeon Keeper itself was re-launched as a mobile game, and series creator Peter Molyneux called it a "ridiculous" adaptation, with longtime fans joining the disparagement.
Now fully in charge of this sub-genre, Realm Forge has prioritized refinements in Dungeons 3’s Overworld along with greatly expanding its map and giving the user more evil to do. At Game Developers Conference 2017, I was given a demonstration of where the game stands about six months from its planned launch.
In gameplay, users of Dungeons 2 also will be delighted to know that a cursor is now paired with The Evil Hand, which represents the user's demonic might and authority. In Dungeons 2, it was Hand only, and its actions could be imprecise, such as grabbing one's own orcs during a fight inside the dungeon (instead of a hero) or flinging them into a fiery discard pit by mistake.
The discard pit has now been gated with what Rauscher called the "yes/no switch," too, which not only cuts down on mistakes but provides a moment of evil levity before casting someone into a flaming pit.
A tech tree is also introduced to the strategy layer, familiar to the R&D component of Kalypso's other strategy/building games. In this case, 40 research projects are available (ranging from trap types, torture devices and other dungeon novelties to spells, buffs and other boosts for one's units). Another 80 sub-researchers can modify the gains coming from these projects. There are 14 spells that the Evil Hand's top lieutenant, Thayla, may cast in the Overworld, but this, of course, requires building and maintaining a mana room down in the dungeon. Heroes will undertake specific missions when they invade, sometimes targeting a specific resource first instead of going after the “heart” of the dungeon to wipe everyone out.
Project research is accomplished by "evilifying" the Overworld, also the goal of the last game. It isn't enough to wipe out a heroic spawn point in the Overworld and darken and blight the surrounding land. Special "concentrated areas of goodness" must be annihilated or converted to evil to generate that ongoing evil bonus that funds a user's dastardly plans.
Meanwhile, back in Hell, chances are the heroes have invaded — again, the basic point of the Dungeon Keeper/Dungeons mini-genre. Down there, Realm Forge has added manually-operated traps to deal a, uh, hell of a lot more damage than standard automatic traps. Rauscher said this was a direct response to a complaint in Dungeons 2, in which users would build out large numbers of traps that did comparatively little damage. Users may still slap around their workers with the Evil Hand, torture and kill imprisoned heroes, re-animate them (provided that machine has been researched) and add them to their unit strength.
The size of the evil force is capped at 25, though four undead equal one from any other faction (orc horde or demons). The three factions available for use in past versions (orcs, demons and undead) are now all available to gin up a combined force. I saw a mech goblin and a "grave golem," the titan class of the horde and undead, for example, and a purple succubus doing her damndest to turn a captured hero to the evil side.
Rauscher said the game will offer 20 missions in a campaign mode (at about one hour each) and 20 maps in all. A "skirmish" mode is Dungeons 3's longer-term, open-ended mode where the user tries to "evilify" the entire Overworld, culminating in a final boss battle. Multiplayer options support up to four trying to accomplish the same thing.
Dungeons 3 is coming in September for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Mac and Linux, and Xbox One. Rauscher said his studio is working on, but can't yet promise, cooperative multiplayer in which two players share a dungeon.
If that pans out, Rauscher said, one player can keep the shop running and deal with hero invasions, while the other can concentrate on conquering the realm, giving both more time to practice their evil laughter.