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Reaping The Dungeon: The Reapening: That story tired me out and I decided to do something nonproductive. I pulled out Reaping the Dungeon, a 1993 DOS game that tormented me with its mix of interesting gameplay and unfairness. It's kind of rare now (well, it was always rare), but you can download it from the "Sysop's Picks" directory from my old BBS.

RtD, later renamed "Dungeon Rogue" in a bizarre decision, is a science fantasy roguelike game. I say science fantasy because, although my definition of science fiction is pretty broad, it does not encompass games that take place below the surface of Jupiter. Like I say, you go down into Jupiter and you have to get down to level 65 to shut down The Machine. Let me tell all you young engineers something I learned in college: don't call one of your projects "The Machine". It's just asking for trouble.

When I played this in the nineties I think I got down to level four, once. This game's difficulty structure is totally different from any roguelike I've played. There are two numbers you've got to watch: "oxygen cells" and "health cells". Both are being constantly depleted and the best you can do is slow down their depletion slightly. They're replenished by the aforementioned reaping.

You see, growing in the caverns beneath Jupiter's surface are plants that operate on a life cycle of several hundred turns. If you find a plant that's in one of the flowering stages, you can cut it down and harvest 30-300 cells of one type or another (in addition to oxygen and health cells, there are also "energy cells" which power your devices and weapons). Otherwise you need to wait around, or come back to the plant later. But I'm not sure if it's worth it because the amount of oxygen you expend waiting around is likely to be pretty close to the oxygen you get by harvesting the plant.

There are some other annoyances, like shops selling things there's no way you can afford, but all the annoyances are dependencies on this one: you die before you can do anything. To balance this out there are awesome weapons and equipment. This is the only non-fantasy roguelike whose equipment feels like it works on technology instead of magic, except maybe Alphaman. But again, you die before you can afford any of the weapons and equipment, because your starting weapon is so poor and there's no such thing as armor.

But now, there's hope. Reaping the Dungeon now runs in a window in a GUI environment rather than on a singletasking DOS box, which means we can cheat. RtD has orbs that do the magic mapping/object detection/monster detection duty for this particular Roguelike. The problem is that you only get to look at the map once and then it disappears. But thanks to multitasking, it's possible to display a map using whatever orbs you have handy, take a screenshot of the map, and consult it as you play the level.

When you cheat this way, the game is almost fair. You know where to go to get treasure, and what dead-ends to avoid to save oxygen. I got down to level 9 before dying, which is pretty good given that the levels are large (like Angband) but the stairs are one-way (like Rogue).

With that in mind I invite you to play Reaping the Dungeon with your game design hat on, take everything that's good about the game (the atmosphere, the reaping, the equipment, the player enhancement), and make a new game with all the good stuff and none of the waiting 200 turns to get 250 oxygen or dying before anything interesting happens. Again, my top suggestion: armor. And actually the microwave from Alphaman, which speeds up the maturation of plants, would be useful too.

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