Saturday, August 25, 2018

Taking a Look at Video Game Megadungeons

I've been returning to some of my favorite video games recently, and surprising no one there's a lot of dungeon-delving involved. So here's a comparison of maps for those who want to sneakily stock a large dungeon that's already set up.

Darkest Dungeon

Starting with the simplest here. This is the megadungeon by means of just having multiple separate dungeons in the same general area. There aren't any real connections between areas in the game as-is (a situation easily rectified in adaptation) which brings with it the core gameplay loop of returning to the Hamlet after every delve, no matter where you choose.

Enter the Gungeon

Straightforward, the Gungeon is. Town on top, five main chambers beneath, three secret levels with access requirements, and a hidden sixth level for masochists. No major choices, no loops, no crossing paths.

Bonus points for the end goal: find the Gun That Kills The Past. Perfect for setting up a bit of character drama. no one comes to the Gungeon without some ghosts in the closet.

The Binding of Isaac

Still pretty simple stuff: two columns that you can cross between with a fork at the bottom. The  weirdness between floors four and five turned out nicely symmetrical, and provides the main real choice in the delve: Spend time and resources fighting the Hush in ???, or skip ahead to the fork? Cathedral or Sheol?

The b-series levels are taken from the Antibirth mod, on the grounds that it's better than Afterbirth+. They all have entry requirements, so you might be able to get into one of them and then kicked back into the main column when you clear that level.

Nuclear Throne

Again, pretty linear design. The main shifts from the norm are the Crown Vault and IDPD HQ, both of which can be accessed from any other level (the latter is only accessible after the game has been looped), and the fact that you can loop yourself back to the beginning after defeating the Throne.

Dead Cells

With all that out of the way, it's time for the good shit. Forking paths, multiple paths, paths that meet back up, a layout that maps itself to a real space way easier than the others on this list. (Prison on an island, town on the coast with a clocktower, castle on the hill above). Notable on this list in that it is primarily lateral in layout rather than vertical.

Hollow Knight

I lied, this is the good shit. A tangled, interconnected mess of tunnels and caverns to wander through. The occasional friendly face or traveling merchant. Stag stations to unlock and make inter-area transit easier. Lots of optional areas completely separate from the critical path. Absurdly complex, lots of effort required to translate to tabletop, but worth it if it can be managed.

Final Thoughts

  • I would be most likely to adapt the Dead Cells or Darkest Dungeon maps.
  • The "single descending column" format seems to be pretty standard for roguelites.
  • Dark Souls 1 goes without mentioning, which is why I did not mention it.
  • Darkest Dungeon as megadungeon is the easiest to throw together by far.
  • Mark Brown's Boss Keys series is a super-good and far more in-depth look into video game dungeon design. Season 1 is Zelda, Season 2 is Metroid.
  • Hollow Knight is so good, people.


  1. Now to get back to that new HK save file.

  2. HK is really good. i never considered the idea, but it could be interesting to translate the map to the table
    and maybe add some of the setting too

  3. Rogue Legacy has a spatial way to choose difficulty : you enter the Castle by the left and progress through the procedurally generated rooms going up, down or sideways. Depending of your general direction you will end up in the Forest (right side, hard), the Tower (up, harder) or the Darkness (down, hardest). Each zone has a boss you have to defeat to open the big door at the entrance of the Castle and fight the Final Boss. As this can be done in more than one run, you can head directly towards an area where you have not fought the boss yet (or farm lower level areas for money/upgrades)

    1. Here is map :
      Pale blue is castle, green is forest, dark blue is tower and red is darkness

    2. I haven't played Rogue Legacy in some time, so I left it off the list. But yeah, that is a handy trait of the game.

  4. La Mulana is what I would call the platonic ideal of a video game megadungeon ripe for adaptation to tabletop.

    Setting wise, it's an ancient temple said to be the source of all life on the planet. Within, remnants of the previous 7 civilizations remain, from an extinct race of giants to a group of immortal prophets who dwell within hidden rooms throughout the temple.

    Map wise, the game does something really smart, thematically pairing up areas. Most obvious is the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, which mirror each other map wise. However, every area of the game has a similar mirror: Gate of Guidance/Gate of Confusion, Chamber of Birth/Chamber of Extinction, Graveyard of the Giants/Mausoleum of the Giants.

    The game wears it's Indiana Jones influence on it's sleeve, with main character Lemeza being a whip wielding archaeologist in a fedora who has a rivalry with his father Shawn. However, I feel this is also a strength, because the game is filled with obscure puzzles necessary to progress, ones that could easily be brought to tabletop.

    The vertical orientation may be an issue, but you've brought up several similar platformers here so it's more of a challenge then anything else.

    1. Oh yeah! Completely forgot La-Mulana. Would probably work better as a tabletop than a videogame, honestly: I got to a point where the guide was so necessary to proceed that I didn't bother not using it.

  5. If you redraw the Isaac map between floors four and five you'll see it makes a pentagram.

  6. I'm guessing for the same reasons you didn't bring up Dark Souls 1 is why you didn't mention Bloodborne either