The 1990s were the decade of great innovations: Thanks to Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, first-person shooters shot up like weeds. Command & Conquer and Warcraft fueled the real-time strategy. The prevailing game developers were in a spirit of optimism and also had the courage to break new ground. Bullfrog’s jailer, Dungeon Keeper, also appeared during this period. To this day, many fans remember the unusual strategy simulation penned by the British studio Bullfrog Productions.
The game design, the bitter humor or simply the option to slap your own subordinates with the virtual demon hand are just a few points that have stuck in your memory to this day. But what many do not know: The development of Dungeon Keeper could hardly have been more chaotic. At times, the game was even completed in the private home of creative head Peter Molyneux. For the 25th anniversary of the classic, we look back at the curious history of the origins of an equally curious game. Off to the dungeon!
Bullfrog Productions and Electronic Arts
Source: Moby Games
Bullfrog Productions was one of the rock stars of the game developer scene in the early 90s. Founded in 1987 by Peter Molyneux and Les Edgar, the small team quickly built a solid reputation for innovative products. Already the third game of the British conquered the mass market: Populous.
The strategy game released in 1989 established the genre of “god simulations” and has sold over four million copies to date. It was then distributed by Electronic Arts, who recognized the potential behind Bullfrog and their ideas early on. Under pressure from EA, Populous was followed by the strategy game Powermonger (1990) and finally Populous 2: Trials of the Olympian Gods (1991).
Bullfrog grew rapidly in the early 1990’s and moved into larger offices at Surrey Research Park in Guildford. Peter Molyneux himself became a video game celebrity, the creative mind that symbolized the credo behind Bullfrog Productions.
Source: Moby Games
After all, it was he who had the first idea for Dungeon Keeper. Funnily enough, the experience gained from the development of the amusement park simulation Theme Park (1994) served as a basis. However, Molyneux reversed the approach to the setting: the cheerful amusement park became a gloomy vaulted cellar in which the player, as a jailer, cultivated creatures, built structures and defended himself against invading heroes.
“It was Peter’s idea first and foremost. It came from a group (as a team) that played a lot of warlike board games that developed amazing dynamics,” Dungeon Keeper programmer and Bullfrog collaborator Jonty Barnes told Retro Gamer magazine .
The thought behind it was: “What if I, or the player, lived as an evil person in a dungeon? And all these do-gooders and knights came to destroy what is important to you. What if they believed that they doing the right thing when they really shouldn’t be in your kingdom in the underworld?” Barnes elaborated on this point.