'Dungeon Keeper' is a PC classic given new life on tablets—but maybe not how fans expect

by Paul Semel

February 2 2014

Tablet Games 101: We speak with Dungeon Keeper senior producer Jeff Skalski about bringing this classic series, and genre, back to life.

Released in 1997, the original Dungeon Keeper was a PC strategy game that cast you as a sadist trying to build a hero-proof lair. But after the third game in the series, Dungeon Keeper 3, was cancelled midway through development, the series went dark—until now (cue the dramatic music). But according to the game’s senior producer, Jeff Skalski, the new mobile version of Dungeon Keeper—which Electronic Arts has released on both iOS and Android tablets—is bringing this series, and this genre, back in ways that might not be what fans of the original are expecting.

TabTimes Games: For those unfamiliar with the original version or this remake, what is Dungeon Keeper?

Jeff Skalski: Dungeon Keeper is a ’90s PC cult classic that really flipped the strategy genre on its head. It was a game filled with witty characters, but, more importantly, gave the players the perspective of playing as the bad guy instead of the hero for the first time. As a Keeper, you controlled your minions and built your ultimate dungeon via a keyboard and mouse from a god-like view looking down onto your underground lair. There really were no other games like it at the time, and since then dungeon strategy builders have been a little scarce. Much like what the PC classic did back in 1997, we want to bring a fresh new take to strategy builders that exist today on the mobile platform.

What elements of the original version were you determined to keep, and which did you change?

We knew bringing Dungeon Keeper to a new platform was going to force us to make dramatic changes, but there were specific items we wanted to hold onto, one being Richard Riding doing Horny’s voice. I’m happy to say he’s been a blast to work with, and the amount of new voiceover we are bringing will make new and old fans smile. Second would have to be slapping your imps. 

As for what changed? Quite a bit, to be honest, all of this really driven by the platform. I didn’t want to make the never-released PC Dungeon Keeper 3 for mobile. We made a mobile game for mobile. We made dungeon raids happen quicker to take into consideration you are most likely to get interrupted at any time by an email, a text, or a phone call. We expanded the color palette so your minions and environments were just as readable on smaller phone screens as tablet screens. We made traps play a more prominent role, and really doubled down on the defensive play mechanics to make them just as in-depth as the offensive gameplay.

The original game was made by Peter Molyneux, who later went on to make the Fable games and Black & White, among others. Did you consult with him on this at all? 

We never worked with Peter, but on my last trip to London I tried to sneak down to Guildford to catch up with him over a pint while he had some hands on time with the game. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t work out our schedules. I’m looking forward to the day he plays the first mobile adaption of this legacy franchise he helped create. I have nothing but a huge amount of respect for the original Bullfrog team. Those guys were unstoppable at the time.

How difficult was it to adapt the game’s original mouse and keyboard controls to the touch screen of a tablet?

Shockingly, it was easier than one would think. Being a god-view game helped it translate over well to a touch screen. You just touch and select tiles to order your imps to begin digging, or select your minions and simply touch a room you’ve claimed to deploy them into battle.

Was there anything you found that worked better with these controls than with the originals?

Slapping imps, hands down. Seeing your little guys react to your touch as you smack them left and right never gets old.

There are a number of games that have been influenced by Dungeon Keeper, including three just last year: Impire, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, and War for the Overworld. Why do you think Dungeon Keeper has remained popular, influential, and most of all, relevant after all these years?

It’s solid, fun, and engaging game mechanics. There is something therapeutic about digging out your dungeon and slapping your imps to work a little harder. It felt like for some time that dungeon builders had been long lost and forgotten, but as of late they are making their return. As a gamer, I couldn’t be more excited, and as a developer I’m happy to be introducing a new generation of gamers to Dungeon Keeper for the first time and bringing back old fans for another round of laughs from their good old friend Horny.

Dungeon Keeper is available now for iOS and Android devices.

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