When I came across an area in Unexplored that consisted entirely of nicely decorated floating rooms all connected by teleporters, I knew we had achieved our goal – we had created a game that could surprise even us, the developer, with the imaginative and interesting levels that our dungeon generation tech could produce.
As you may have guessed, Unexplored’s most unique feature is its content generator. As a team we worked hard to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with generated levels. A challenge both technologically and design-wise.
So, how did we tackle this?
First, every floor you encounter in Unexplored’s procedurally-generated Dungeon of Doom has a couple of themes running at the same time. Themes such as water, lava, teleporters, and chasms. Some of those themes are obvious, others are opaque and rare.
The trick is to have themes work together to create unique gameplay experiences. A floor running a lava and water theme, for example, features boiling water. Or a level combining chasms, decorated rooms, and teleporters may end up, well, featuring nothing more than those floating rooms, interconnected by teleporters.
We created nine main themes and dozens more smaller ones. By having so many different themes, the possible combinations are near-endless. Every floor you encounter becomes a game in itself – you must discover what’s going on and how the dungeon is trying to kill you this time. Or, sometimes, how it’s trying to help you.
In order to beat Unexplored, you must pay attention. The content generation might be ‘random’, but it is still readable to a certain extent. Once you’ve descended into the dungeon a couple of times you will start picking up on the themes I’ve mentioned. You will know when and where to look for secrets, when a particular room is a trap, and when a whole floor might be best avoided altogether. In the true tradition of roguelike games, playing Unexplored is as much about developing smart strategies as it is about building your sword-fighting skills.
As a designer, I really love the effect content generation has on gameplay. If you beat Unexplored, that victory is truly yours. There’s no save game to help you after you die, you can’t memorize levels. It’s so much more than simply jumping through all the hoops the designers put in front of you.
After finishing the base game, we started to conduct some more extreme experiments with our content generator. The results of those experiments ended up as three pieces of DLC (already included in the Unexplored: Unlocked Edition for Xbox One under Special Runs in the main menu).
The overall structure of the first Special Run remains the same every time, but each floor is still generated on the spot. Think of it like this: you’ve heard rumours of what to expect in this dungeon, aptly named The Mines of Moryondor, but you’re never quite sure of exactly what is going to happen. To beat Mithril Run you really, really need to strategize and plan ahead.
More focused on action gameplay, Ripley Run gives you a magical, repeater crossbow and a whole bunch of targets to shoot at. You’ll still need to plan carefully, though, as you’ll never have enough arrows, and being able to locate additional resources is key to playing this mode.
The Dark Ritual
In contrast, The Dark Ritual is one giant, nested puzzle, where we took Unexplored’s ability to generate floor-spanning puzzles to the extreme. You still have plenty of scary monsters to deal with, as befits The Dark Ritual’s Cthulhu-inspired theme.
By tweaking the content generator, we created vastly different gameplay experiences. My personal favourite is yet another different play style: Desolate Mode. It’s not a Special Run as such, it’s a special kind of difficulty setting.
Desolate Mode makes the levels almost deserted: very few enemies and equally few magic and healing items. This mode features long stretches of silent exploration that suddenly burst into frantic moments of life-threatening combat. Yet another vastly different take on the classic dungeon delving experience.
We can’t wait for you to play Unexplored: Unlocked Edition on Xbox One and to be surprised over and over again. Even now, after many years of development, the game still throws curve balls that even I never imagined.