Hybridized Dungeon Crawlers

This week, I'll be discussing my favorite sub-sub-genre (seriously, genres are fucked up) and its merits over similar games without the hybrid element.
 
If you're wondering what manner of nonsense I'm talking about, the creation of a hybridized dungeon crawler is as follows: 
1. You take a perfectly functional dungeon-crawler - think Diablo or Torchlight, or anything designated as a " Roguelike" or said to include procedurally generated dungeons. These dungeons are varied in their size and aesthetic style (their look, in non-pretentious wordage), full of treasures and monsters, and are to some extent generated on the fly by some sort of inherent algorithm and other coding jargon I've long since been unable to figure out.
2. You add to this dungeon crawler an equally full and functional second game genre. Currently, there doesn't seem to be any theoretical restrictions on what this second genre is, only that it needs to be something that can directly complement the dungeon crawler element in some way - so money earned in the dungeon would have second-mode applications, and you can do stuff in the second-mode that will assist or direct the dungeon crawling. 
3. Important to note that the dungeon crawling and second mode should remain separate: It isn't just the same game mode throughout. So something like Borderlands, which is pretty much a hybrid of a dungeon crawler and an FPS, wouldn't count in this instance. Though I guess they'd have to be called the same thing. Genres are fucked up.
 
The idea is that the dungeon crawler element is captivating on a sheer behavioral level of "kill monster, find shiny", which after a while will lose its sheen and begin to resemble a pointless chore. The second mode alleviates this "enjoyment entropy" by giving players the distraction of a separate gaming experience for a while, so they cam re-enter the dungeon mode refreshed and the initial captivation intact, with this cycle perpetuating ideally for the length of the game. At least that's the theory, but considering how successful some of the games on this list became, it's clear this system works when handled correctly.
 
I'll briefly cover some examples of what I'm talking about:
 

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (Dungeon Crawler + Social Sim)

The Persona games famously divide their playtime between the dungeon crawling and the social dating sim aspects. The dungeon crawling moves the game forward, with deadlines imposed and met to further the storyline. The social element allows the player to increase their prowess in the dungeons via some sort of spiritual power leak from the strength of their relationships with friends and lovers. Thus, building these relationships between dungeon excursions is highly beneficial as well as being an entertaining series of vignettes focusing on the development of a side character. These little stories are the perfect foil for the randomized dungeon crawling, creating solid, believable character arcs that stand out especially against the indiscriminate chaos of your Tartaruses and TV Worlds.
 

Dark Cloud (Dungeon Crawler + World-Building Sim)

The Dark Cloud series follows the adventures of a world-building hero, who needs to descend various dungeons for the inspiration and raw materials to recreate a series of locations. The first game largely takes the Soul Blazer route of having certain buildings and people of the overworld unlocked based on the player's progress through the dungeon, though the player is responsible for the placement of these overworld pieces to suit specific requisites. Dark Cloud 2 is slightly more open, giving you the resources (or funds) needed to rebuild entire villages complete with buildings, walls, fences, pathways, rivers and stage-specific fixtures like mechanical cranes. The sequel also goes one step further by introducing many side projects to the dungeon crawler, including a photography subquest, character specific requests and fishing and golf mini-games that can be undertaken once a dungeon floor is cleared of enemies. 
 

Rune Factory (Dungeon Crawler + Farming Sim)

Simple enough: Harvest Moon with dungeon crawls. The resources you claim from dungeons, mostly tamable monsters, are as integral to building a profitable farm as the diligent planting and harvesting cycle of your edible flora. Doing too much of one or the other isn't necessarily going to ruin your farm, but a balance is recommended. It's hard to say if this improves the Harvest Moon experience too much, since I'm not sure who buys these games besides farming enthusiasts (the ones that aren't all flocking to Farming Simulator 2011, of course), but it now has five games in the series so obviously farming and treasure are a potent combination for somebody.
 

Now I'll go over several theoretical "second mode" genres and how they might be combined with a dungeon crawler, and see if it creates a fun Frankenstein's monster, like Frankenberry, and not a scary bad Frankenstein's monster, like Frankenstein's monster.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Shmup

Shmups don't seem like they'd be impossible to procedurally generate - it's basically waves of enemies and glowy bullets to avoid - either in the traditional horizontal/vertical scrolling format or the currently popular single-screen dual-stick format. While you could build a game that had shmup stages separating the dungeons, similar to Kingdom Hearts Gummi Ship sections, I'm wondering if you couldn't have a game where you'd just simply switch between these two modes whenever you had the compulsion to do so. While dungeon crawling is a slow(ish),  methodical sweeping of a series of halls and tunnels, the shmup equivalent of same would be a lot faster paced but also a lot more treacherous without that measured sense of caution. Players could switch if they find their crawling experience flagging, or if they find they're dying too much against the enemy hordes on this level. Both modes would have all the treasures and monsters native to dungeon-crawling, so it'd be more or less just a switch-up of pacing.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Sports

Well, I'm the last guy to play a sports game, because if I did that I'd be a jock and therefore my own worst enemy. Over here in 1980s highschool movie cliché land. Honestly, I just don't find them all that enthralling since they tend to be so dry and shoot for realism. One exception are the Mutant League games, which combine the usual rules and plays with horrific zombie-on-alien violence and lots of dark comic humor. A Sports/Dungeon Crawler based on that type of world would involve capturing monsters and training them for roles in either some fictional medieval sport or perhaps a real one like soccer or football (or football and American football, depending on your geography). Certain monsters could be used for "defense" and "offense" depending on how rock-solid or pointy they happen to be, though they'd need enough intelligence to follow orders. You could also use the funds from dungeon crawling to hire and trade pre-existing players. Adversely, the monsters would assist the player in the dungeon crawling aspect, increasing their skills in the blocking/tackling/kicking fields as they level up.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Empire Building Sim/Strategy

In this hypothetical game, the dungeon crawling boosts a would-be conqueror's armies and territories. This is partly done by simply raising funds and finding weapons and equipment for their troops by exploring ancient fortresses and forgotten dungeons on a larger "take everything that isn't junk" scale. The end goal of each large dungeon, though, would be to reclaim some artifact of power with an actual global effect on the player's abilities as a monarch. These could range from icons that affirms their right to rule (increasing fame and relations with rival despots) to advanced lost technology that increases the strength of their troops a la Civilization, or magical artifacts that give the player unique benefits when creating cities or fighting wars. The player would move around in dungeons with a larger excavation team of warriors, engineers and stout peons for the heavy lifting. Instead of one or two weapon or armor drops, they'd be emptying entire armories of hundreds. Instead of just taking piles of gold and jewels, they'd be taking all the furniture and fixtures that haven't completely rotted away. It'd be an interesting (even if I do say so myself) twist on the usual small scale one-man dungeon crawl.
 

So what do you guys think about combining dungeon crawlers with other game types? Are they more fun or less fun than core crawler games like Torchlight? Any other (hopefully better) ideas for combinations? Do you think these blog posts are weakened by having a bunch of rhetorical questions at the end? Is this a rhetorical question? Where are my pants?
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10 Comments
Edited by Mento

This week, I'll be discussing my favorite sub-sub-genre (seriously, genres are fucked up) and its merits over similar games without the hybrid element.
 
If you're wondering what manner of nonsense I'm talking about, the creation of a hybridized dungeon crawler is as follows: 
1. You take a perfectly functional dungeon-crawler - think Diablo or Torchlight, or anything designated as a " Roguelike" or said to include procedurally generated dungeons. These dungeons are varied in their size and aesthetic style (their look, in non-pretentious wordage), full of treasures and monsters, and are to some extent generated on the fly by some sort of inherent algorithm and other coding jargon I've long since been unable to figure out.
2. You add to this dungeon crawler an equally full and functional second game genre. Currently, there doesn't seem to be any theoretical restrictions on what this second genre is, only that it needs to be something that can directly complement the dungeon crawler element in some way - so money earned in the dungeon would have second-mode applications, and you can do stuff in the second-mode that will assist or direct the dungeon crawling. 
3. Important to note that the dungeon crawling and second mode should remain separate: It isn't just the same game mode throughout. So something like Borderlands, which is pretty much a hybrid of a dungeon crawler and an FPS, wouldn't count in this instance. Though I guess they'd have to be called the same thing. Genres are fucked up.
 
The idea is that the dungeon crawler element is captivating on a sheer behavioral level of "kill monster, find shiny", which after a while will lose its sheen and begin to resemble a pointless chore. The second mode alleviates this "enjoyment entropy" by giving players the distraction of a separate gaming experience for a while, so they cam re-enter the dungeon mode refreshed and the initial captivation intact, with this cycle perpetuating ideally for the length of the game. At least that's the theory, but considering how successful some of the games on this list became, it's clear this system works when handled correctly.
 
I'll briefly cover some examples of what I'm talking about:
 

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (Dungeon Crawler + Social Sim)

The Persona games famously divide their playtime between the dungeon crawling and the social dating sim aspects. The dungeon crawling moves the game forward, with deadlines imposed and met to further the storyline. The social element allows the player to increase their prowess in the dungeons via some sort of spiritual power leak from the strength of their relationships with friends and lovers. Thus, building these relationships between dungeon excursions is highly beneficial as well as being an entertaining series of vignettes focusing on the development of a side character. These little stories are the perfect foil for the randomized dungeon crawling, creating solid, believable character arcs that stand out especially against the indiscriminate chaos of your Tartaruses and TV Worlds.
 

Dark Cloud (Dungeon Crawler + World-Building Sim)

The Dark Cloud series follows the adventures of a world-building hero, who needs to descend various dungeons for the inspiration and raw materials to recreate a series of locations. The first game largely takes the Soul Blazer route of having certain buildings and people of the overworld unlocked based on the player's progress through the dungeon, though the player is responsible for the placement of these overworld pieces to suit specific requisites. Dark Cloud 2 is slightly more open, giving you the resources (or funds) needed to rebuild entire villages complete with buildings, walls, fences, pathways, rivers and stage-specific fixtures like mechanical cranes. The sequel also goes one step further by introducing many side projects to the dungeon crawler, including a photography subquest, character specific requests and fishing and golf mini-games that can be undertaken once a dungeon floor is cleared of enemies. 
 

Rune Factory (Dungeon Crawler + Farming Sim)

Simple enough: Harvest Moon with dungeon crawls. The resources you claim from dungeons, mostly tamable monsters, are as integral to building a profitable farm as the diligent planting and harvesting cycle of your edible flora. Doing too much of one or the other isn't necessarily going to ruin your farm, but a balance is recommended. It's hard to say if this improves the Harvest Moon experience too much, since I'm not sure who buys these games besides farming enthusiasts (the ones that aren't all flocking to Farming Simulator 2011, of course), but it now has five games in the series so obviously farming and treasure are a potent combination for somebody.
 

Now I'll go over several theoretical "second mode" genres and how they might be combined with a dungeon crawler, and see if it creates a fun Frankenstein's monster, like Frankenberry, and not a scary bad Frankenstein's monster, like Frankenstein's monster.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Shmup

Shmups don't seem like they'd be impossible to procedurally generate - it's basically waves of enemies and glowy bullets to avoid - either in the traditional horizontal/vertical scrolling format or the currently popular single-screen dual-stick format. While you could build a game that had shmup stages separating the dungeons, similar to Kingdom Hearts Gummi Ship sections, I'm wondering if you couldn't have a game where you'd just simply switch between these two modes whenever you had the compulsion to do so. While dungeon crawling is a slow(ish),  methodical sweeping of a series of halls and tunnels, the shmup equivalent of same would be a lot faster paced but also a lot more treacherous without that measured sense of caution. Players could switch if they find their crawling experience flagging, or if they find they're dying too much against the enemy hordes on this level. Both modes would have all the treasures and monsters native to dungeon-crawling, so it'd be more or less just a switch-up of pacing.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Sports

Well, I'm the last guy to play a sports game, because if I did that I'd be a jock and therefore my own worst enemy. Over here in 1980s highschool movie cliché land. Honestly, I just don't find them all that enthralling since they tend to be so dry and shoot for realism. One exception are the Mutant League games, which combine the usual rules and plays with horrific zombie-on-alien violence and lots of dark comic humor. A Sports/Dungeon Crawler based on that type of world would involve capturing monsters and training them for roles in either some fictional medieval sport or perhaps a real one like soccer or football (or football and American football, depending on your geography). Certain monsters could be used for "defense" and "offense" depending on how rock-solid or pointy they happen to be, though they'd need enough intelligence to follow orders. You could also use the funds from dungeon crawling to hire and trade pre-existing players. Adversely, the monsters would assist the player in the dungeon crawling aspect, increasing their skills in the blocking/tackling/kicking fields as they level up.
 

Dungeon Crawler + Empire Building Sim/Strategy

In this hypothetical game, the dungeon crawling boosts a would-be conqueror's armies and territories. This is partly done by simply raising funds and finding weapons and equipment for their troops by exploring ancient fortresses and forgotten dungeons on a larger "take everything that isn't junk" scale. The end goal of each large dungeon, though, would be to reclaim some artifact of power with an actual global effect on the player's abilities as a monarch. These could range from icons that affirms their right to rule (increasing fame and relations with rival despots) to advanced lost technology that increases the strength of their troops a la Civilization, or magical artifacts that give the player unique benefits when creating cities or fighting wars. The player would move around in dungeons with a larger excavation team of warriors, engineers and stout peons for the heavy lifting. Instead of one or two weapon or armor drops, they'd be emptying entire armories of hundreds. Instead of just taking piles of gold and jewels, they'd be taking all the furniture and fixtures that haven't completely rotted away. It'd be an interesting (even if I do say so myself) twist on the usual small scale one-man dungeon crawl.
 

So what do you guys think about combining dungeon crawlers with other game types? Are they more fun or less fun than core crawler games like Torchlight? Any other (hopefully better) ideas for combinations? Do you think these blog posts are weakened by having a bunch of rhetorical questions at the end? Is this a rhetorical question? Where are my pants?
Moderator Online
Edited by Kyreo

Dark Cloud was the first game I thought of when I read the title and I'm glad you included on yer list.  Also I think dungeon crawler sports would be interesting to see.... if it was done well, that is.

Posted by jozzy

Recettear is a pretty good example of this type of game, maybe similar to runefactory (don't know that one)? It's a mix of rpg shopkeeper  and dungeon crawling.
 http://www.carpefulgur.com/recettear/

Posted by reddin

I enjoy dungeon crawlers, and if you throw something else into the mix there's a good chance that I like it as well.
I'm perfectly happy if something is just a dungeon crawler though.
 
And I didn't realize Rune Factory had dungeon crawling :) 
I always read "Harvest Moon offshoot" and stopped paying attention, because I played one of those once, and while I enjoyed it I saw no reason to do so again. This sounds interesting enough though, so I might look into it next time I have nothing to play on my DS.

Posted by animateria

What about Etrian Odyssey? 
  
It seems like a straight up dungeon crawler until you get into the cartography aspect of the game. 

Especially the third one I think is a serious mixture of Cartography and Dungeon Crawling thanks to it's sea mapping as well as it's dungeon mapping aspects. 
 
I personally call it a Cartography RPG, or CRPG for short. The first in the genre? Maybe?

Posted by Hailinel
@animateria said:
" What about Etrian Odyssey?   It seems like a straight up dungeon crawler until you get into the cartography aspect of the game. Especially the third one I think is a serious mixture of Cartography and Dungeon Crawling thanks to it's sea mapping as well as it's dungeon mapping aspects.  I personally call it a Cartography RPG, or CRPG for short. The first in the genre? Maybe? "
You apparently never played dungeon crawlers in the '80s.  Graph paper was an unlisted prerequisite.
Posted by Mento
@Kyreo:  Definitely true about the right execution. An idea in game development is like knowledge in GI Joe: It's only half the battle (if that). Really, though, that whole blurb was my attempt to drum up support for a new Mutant League game. I love Mutant League.
 
@jozzy: I am deeply chagrined that I forgot about Recettear. I only beat it a few months ago. Totally the same principle, good call.
 
@reddin: I haven't actually played a Rune Factory game, so the dungeon stuff might not be as well developed as I'm assuming it to be. But if there's five of them, they've got to be doing something right.
 
@animateria: @Hailinel: Yeah, I think that's more an integrated feature of the dungeon crawl rather than a separate mode. It'd be neat if they awarded the player bonuses for accurately filling out the floor maps for, say, an adventurer guild to use. They might for all I know, actually, since I've only played the first one a small amount.
Moderator Online
Posted by animateria
@Hailinel: Actually I did play one of em on the PC in the 90s. Forgot what it was called though. I just remember the game being tough. 
 
Anyways, players needed to use graph paper because the game didn't have maps. Not because the game necessarily wanted you to. If you had a good memory, you didn't even need to draw anything.
 
The EO series makes that so-called unlisted prerequisite into an intended game mechanic, of course for the same purpose as those older games. They purposely avoided mapping the areas automatically, unlike any other modern game (Even similar games like SMT Strange Journey). Making map making for the sake of map making rather than only a means to an end. It's almost for those OCD individuals that need to walk in all the corners of the dungeons just to get the map filled in for their personal satisfaction. Except with added fun(?) of drawing the maps in yourself.
 
EO3 takes the idea much further with the new Seafaring aspects of the game, making cartography a goal rather than just a simple necessity. That small change is surprisingly refreshing despite ultimately being very similar to what you're doing in a dungeon.  
 
I think the whole cartography mechanic of the game became meaningful enough in the 3rd game to almost become a genre in itself. (Although I admit that I really like how confusing calling it a CRPG can be more than the idea of it being a genre).
Posted by ArbitraryWater

You're right that the reason this hybridizing goes on is to prevent the Dungeon Crawling itself from being boring by adding some sort of side distraction. Considering that most pure dungeon crawlers in this day and age are "pure" in the sense that they hearken back to the early 80s for their inspiration (and are part of that sub-sub genre of RPG, the Wizardry Fauxback. See: The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey) without taking into account all the other advances in the First Person Party RPG since 1985. It kind of drives me crazy

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Posted by Cerogravian
@Mento said: " Genres are fucked up." 
 ...Always true. 
 
Nice thoughts here, I really enjoy reading your blog posts. When it comes to hybrids I've always had a soft spot for the Persona 2: IS/EP -style. Not that much of social simming, more along the lines of "Dungeon Crawler + Detective-ing", even though this does not go very deep. So that's a combination I would really love to work on myself. Work more on, maybe I should say, since I've been thinking about the concept on and off for a while, but I rarely have the time...