itachi11115

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Hey all, novice game maker here. I am struggling with building unique and enticing dungeons. Whenever I try to make one, it just ends up being really basic. Kinda feels like the first legend of zelda game, where all the dungeons look alike and every room looks similar.
So, I need tips from people who have done this a lot. How can I make every dungeon interesting, and make the important ones memorable?
 

BlackRoseMii

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I'm not sure if you can even use my advice, since I'm not that good at it, but I can at least try.

My advice would be to not think of it as a dungeon, but a location. A place with it's own history and life. Maybe it has been used as something, maybe there's something hidden there. How did it become like this? Does something happen here outside of what the heroes need? Think of it as a place that is more than just a dungeon to go through and nothing else.

I guess in that sense, it would be good to think of your world as something that exists alongside the story you create and not something that is only there to push the story forward.
 

HOLYMOTHER

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When I encounter problems like this, I just think of all my favorite games and dissect how they did it, then find the germs of what made them good and apply it to my own work.

If you want to make a good dungeon, think of all the great dungeons in games and study them. Baldur's Gate II had some good ones, and Morrowind springs to mind too. It also helps to think of dungeons as being more than dungeons in the literal sense. Taris from KoTOR I was a dungeon just as much as the Peragus Mining Facility from II. Termina from Majora's Mask was a dungeon. Besaid Island from FFX was a dungeon. That train level from Paper Mario TTYD was a dungeon.

The important thing is to create an atmosphere, and use that atmosphere to impress something emotionally on the player.
 

tumsterfest

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I agree with the first poster -- before you start designing, think of the lore of that location and the plot purpose it serves.

Beyond that, I try to practice this rule: Every map must include one unique thing. This could take a variety of forms:
  • An intriguing visual feature -- like an unusually huge tree or statue, or a cliff edge with a sunlit view of the kingdom
  • A unique mechanic -- like "press X to hop across each giant mushroom sticking out of the raging, poisonous river"
  • A tantalizing treasure or path that seems out of reach
  • On-map danger -- floor damage traps and moving enemies that harm your party or steal inventory
  • Modified playing conditions -- like a dungeon that continually saps your MP unless you're within 5 steps of a "safe zone"
  • A simple puzzle
  • Variety of path shapes (not just a straight line) and terrain elevations
It's also OK to take inspiration. There's a "Maps and Screenshots" thread on these forums, and you can always Google maps of dungeons you enjoyed in games you've played.
 

Tai_MT

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Here's the things I generally rely on:

1. Every location has its own story. The layout of the dungeon tells that story. What is the story of this dungeon? Well, there's a river that runs through it. Okay, what does that river do? Does it affect what sorts of enemies are there? Flora in the area? Did the water carve out the dungeon in a particular way? Where does the water come from? Where is it going? Etcetera.

2. Each "room" needs a theme. This room has a bunch of skeletons in it. Why? What's the theme? Death? Danger? Grief? Is the next room a graveyard as a result? Or a half destroyed cathedral? Etctera.

3. Each "dungeon" needs a purpose. What is the reason the player needs to enter this dungeon? If your answer is "gain levels", then your dungeon doesn't need to exist. If your answer is "because RPG's have dungeons", then your dungeon also doesn't need to exist.

Here's two examples I'll give you from my own game:

Poison Dungeon
The purpose of this dungeon is to introduce several mechanics to the player. It is meant to introduce how a dungeon will work (namely, if half your resources are gone before you hit the boss, you need to leave and come back with more). It is meant to introduce how Poison works (I have a Level 1 and Level 2 variant at play in this dungeon). It is meant to teach the player basic mechanics bosses will use (the "Revenge" mechanic in particular, but there are other things the enemies will throw at the player they need to learn). It is also meant to teach "basic weaknesses" to some of the specific enemy archetypes. It is a training dungeon.

Lover's Leap
This dungeon serves two purposes. The first is it delivers storyline between two of the main characters and helps resolve a few things early (or at least, begins the journey to that resolution). The second is that it is meant to teach the player about "Priority targets". Or, rather, how to better economize your actions. You have a "warrior" class with a "mage" class. The player will be pitted up against enemies weak to either type, both types, or maybe only conditionally weak to types. It is to showcase "working together" to win. It also showcases the "Silence" type skills that can lock down EITHER of the party members.

4. Dungeons need "character". That is, some of the "character" of your dungeon is in what enemies reside there. Or, even, what mechanics the dungeon employs. Do all the enemies in this dungeon cast Confusion? That adds to the character of the dungeon. Are all the enemies types of dinosaurs? Well, that adds to the character of the dungeon as well. Likewise, try to add "layers" to a dungeon as well. If you can have steps going up or down, or ledges sticking out of the wall you can't get to, it adds to the "character" of the dungeon as well and breaks up the sightlines a little. Or, rather, it breaks up the monotony of a single tile type repeating.

5. Good "loot". If all you have in your dungeon is consumables and money and maybe equipment that isn't useful at all... What does that add to the dungeon in terms of memorability? But, if this is the dungeon where you fiddled with a switch, found a secret door, and now you have a sword that can instantly petrify enemies and cause them to die... Well now, that makes the dungeon interesting. Are there other secrets here? Other cool pieces of equipment to gather? What if the player got a new piece of equipment for each character in here? Either a weapon or a piece of armor?

6. Interesting map layout. Walking in straight lines is generally "not interactive" enough. A player that has to go around several corners is more likely to enjoy the dungeon more than one who just runs straight lines. Especially if the maps "interconnect" to each other so that an internal map can be drawn that allows the player to view how it all fits in their head.
 

itachi11115

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I'm not sure if you can even use my advice, since I'm not that good at it, but I can at least try.

My advice would be to not think of it as a dungeon, but a location. A place with it's own history and life. Maybe it has been used as something, maybe there's something hidden there. How did it become like this? Does something happen here outside of what the heroes need? Think of it as a place that is more than just a dungeon to go through and nothing else.

I guess in that sense, it would be good to think of your world as something that exists alongside the story you create and not something that is only there to push the story forward.
This is definitely good advice, I will try to implement it. Thank you!
 

itachi11115

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I agree with the first poster -- before you start designing, think of the lore of that location and the plot purpose it serves.

Beyond that, I try to practice this rule: Every map must include one unique thing. This could take a variety of forms:
  • An intriguing visual feature -- like an unusually huge tree or statue, or a cliff edge with a sunlit view of the kingdom
  • A unique mechanic -- like "press X to hop across each giant mushroom sticking out of the raging, poisonous river"
  • A tantalizing treasure or path that seems out of reach
  • On-map danger -- floor damage traps and moving enemies that harm your party or steal inventory
  • Modified playing conditions -- like a dungeon that continually saps your MP unless you're within 5 steps of a "safe zone"
  • A simple puzzle
  • Variety of path shapes (not just a straight line) and terrain elevations
It's also OK to take inspiration. There's a "Maps and Screenshots" thread on these forums, and you can always Google maps of dungeons you enjoyed in games you've played.
These are all great suggestions, thank you so much!
 

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