BoIt began with an online match...Edit
I recently became aware of the, as of this writing, in-progress spiritual successor to the Dungeon Keeper series called “War for the Overworld.” However, I didn’t have enough money to get into the early access beta, so I’d just have to settle for what the five dollars in my possession could get me. The nostalgic longing for times gone by did not stifle down, so I decided to revisit Dungeon Keeper 2. A simple trip to Good Old Games later, and I was playing through the campaign and having a blast, sometimes rushing through the missions as fast as I could, other times taking it slowly, making a noted effort to torture every enemy unit into joining me until I couldn’t provide enough food, gold, and living space to justify dicking around any longer. Nothing was wrong with the campaign, or with the game at all (at first.) No, instead, the oddities occurred when I decided on a whim to search for a multiplayer match.
And imagine my utmost, slack-jawed shock when I actually found an opponent! His name was just the default “Player”, and I supposed, at the time, that he just didn't bother changing it. I tried chatting with him before the game started, but he didn’t respond. I guessed he just wanted a match and nothing else, so I settled in for the ride . . . what I got next shattered my good mood.
The match was over in less than ten minutes. Whoever this mystery player was, he knew his stuff, and before I’d massed even a passable force, I was overwhelmed by a group of Black Knights; my Dungeon Heart hacked to pieces! I actually find a multiplayer round, and I assume he knew this opportunity was just as rare and fleeting for him as it was me, and then this asshole decides to beat me down in as swift and cruel a manner as possible, instead of letting us battle wits and creatures and face off in a long and memorable struggle.
For a moment, I wondered if this was actually a Skirmish with the hardest level of AI, but . . . the moment passed, and my Dungeon Heart was destroyed. Collecting myself, I accepted my bitter defeat and left the match, feeling utterly humiliated. Way to make a first impression, mystery man… but then, after the debriefing, instead of going back to the sessions screen, I got treated to something….different.
“Lifeguard”, the screen stated, complete with voiceover. What made it odd was that the mentor’s speech was clearly assembled from two different sound files. I stared at the screen, befuddled and confused, when the scene started. Oh! A cinematic interlude, like the ones from the campaign! I should have known, but the taste of bitter, overwhelming defeat drowned out rational thought for a moment.
It opened up with a Skeleton overlooking a Temple pool, seated on the hand in the center. He had a whistle around his neck, and he was leaning back and relaxing.
Footsteps sounded from offscreen – and several creatures in bathing suits rushed for the pool, sprinting as fast as their legs could carry them – and in the case of the Bile Demons, their arms. He blew with gusto on the whistle, after taking a few seconds to figure out how a Skeleton was supposed to do so with no lips.
But by the time he was blowing furiously, the incessant tweeting blasting over and over, the creatures had leapt in, and were already spinning to their demise, sacrificing themselves to the Dark Gods. This mass suicide was . . . eerie, to say the least. It was hilarious at first (At least, to me, I don’t know if that kind of black comedy would click with other people), but it just kept dragging on and on to the point where I was getting a little uneasy. It became clear that the gag had overstayed its welcome and they were fully aware of what they were doing. It got funny again around halfway through, and then the heroes joined in on the pool party, and that’s when the sheer eeriness just got even worse.
The Skeleton threw his whistle down and stormed off in a fit of anger, ending the interlude on a bit of a higher note, taking the edge off the scene. I stared at the main menu for a long while afterwards, questioning in my head. Why did I get a cinematic after a multiplayer match? Did Bullfrog hide this in the game’s files? Or was this the doing of the mysterious opponent I had just faced off with?
Either way, I stopped for the night and went to bed. I’d look into this later, and little did I know that was just the tip of the iceberg…
The next day, I searched for another match, hoping to find someone else. Nope. Just “Player”. This time, I put my all into the match and summoned up as many Elite Creatures as I could to put a buffer between myself and his aggressive tactics. The game devolved into a pretty grueling stalemate at that point. I had to rely on barricades near the end because all of my walls had been dug out as he threw Tremor after Tremor, wave after wave at me. To make things more frustrating, Almeric (That’s the Elite Warlock for those of you who don’t play the game) would often duck away to the Library to do research in the middle of battle! What could he possibly be upgrading at this point? I was informed that “There is nothing left to research” around halfway through the match!
I managed to secure a precious few amount of creatures from his army, because he would immediately lift away any low health unit into his Hand of Evil before it could be knocked unconscious. A few times, I managed to catch him off-guard by tossing an Inferno or a Thunderbolt out.
In the chaos, the Mentor spoke up.
“One of your Warlocks has become unhappy-“
I started ignoring him… I usually didn’t care about my creatures’ moods unless they devolved into “angry” - that's when they tend to leave your dungeon, or worse, rebel, and join the side of the heroes that try to invade your dark domain.
“-because he has learned something not meant for mortal minds.”
I scrolled over to the creature in question, and there was Almeric, running away from the Library and towards my Casino – no doubt to drink until he forgot what he’d unearthed. There, in my Library, a strange tome was floating above one of the bookshelves. Dark, unintelligible whispers could be heard from the thing.
…Nothing too far from the ambience that usually plays. I checked my spell list to see what this thing did, but nothing new showed up for me to cast. But, again, I noted, the Mentor’s sound file seemed like it was assembled from other pre-existing lines. But the next one was definetely not a patchjob of other lines:
“Your Torture Chamber is under attack!”
Jolted from my curiosity, I remembered I had an opponent to battle. I went back to my torture chamber – only to see it get captured, and all the creatures I was torturing were instantly freed and healed by "Player". Oops.
But, as “Your Dungeon Heart is dying” informed me; it was just a distraction while he led a possessed Dark Angel and a group of his strongest creatures to my Dungeon Heart. While I threw everything I had at this force, and it would have won the battle under less pressing circumstances; my Dungeon Heart was destroyed and another defeat was slapped into my face. Oh well. I did better this time around. But what was up with that strange tome in my Library?
As before, another odd clip awaited me.
“A Strange Development”
The scene opened up on an empty backdrop, which I recognized from “Baked Beans?” and “Here, Chickey, Chickey!” A play on the “posing for a picture” gag, but… there were no creatures posing. The camera came up, and snapped a photo.
I nearly fell out of my seat: Almeric’s translucent specter, pale, shaken, with sunken eyes, was standing in the picture. It felt like he was staring into my soul, his eyes full of fear, despair, and most of all, anger. At me, for failing as his Keeper. At himself, for digging too deep.
“Player” wasn’t around for a third match, so I decided to quit and step away from the computer, get some fresh air, and think about what had happened.
So I told this story to some of my friends. A few laughed me off, “Oh no! A haunted video game! How original!”, and most had no idea what I was talking about. "Dungeon Keeper? What's that?" Go figure. I searched for another match as soon as I was home. “Player” wasn’t feeling up to another bout. No surprise there.
But the strange thing was… those whispers from the book? I heard them in my sleep. I woke up several times that night in a cold sweat. I didn’t know who “Player” was, or what his agenda was, or how that book was still whispering to me, but I was going to get answers. I searched online, figuring someone else must have met up with this "Player", but all I ended up learning was the fact that Bullfrog's servers had been down for years, that I shouldn't be finding this match in the first place.
Somewhere past midnight, I got into my next, and final round with "Player". Before we started, I told him that a strange whispering book had appeared in my Library during our last match, and that I could still hear it whenever I went to sleep. I asked him what was going on, but once again, “Player” was silent as the grave.
Like always, I built the room layout to summon Almeric first. The 5x5 Library with a Lair tile in each corner - the lair tiles placed first, the library built in afterwards, for convenience’s sake. I hesitated. But I needed Almeric and his swift research speed. So, taking a deep breath, I summoned him. The trumpeting fanfare played immediately: “A new species of creature has entered your dungeon.” There he was, emerging from the depths of the Underworld to serve me again - but the book came with him. He carried the thing as he headed for the Library. A very strange thing happened next.
Almeric didn’t make a home in any of my Lairs - not the large one I’d built before claiming the portal… not the ones in the corners of his library, either.
He just put his nose to work.
Perplexed, I momentarily pondered dropping him on a Lair tile to force him to make a bed - but I had an opponent to defeat.
My combat pit was next, and I immediately set my Black Knights to work beating the snot out of each other to level up, and as soon as I could afford it, I put a Training Room around the thing to grab Kaleb.
Then, a 5x5 Workshop with Lairs in each corner for Knud (The Elite Troll). My strategy this time was to use traps to help ward off his early tactics. Then, the Mentor spoke up again.
“Your nocturnal perseverance has earned you a hidden gaming tip: Go to bed.”
At first, I jumped, but then, I remembered this was one of the sound files that played when your clock got to some pretty late hours. The Mentor, however, would cycle between the variations of this suggestion almost constantly, nagging me to get some sleep. No, I told myself. Not until I beat “Player.”, and make this stop.
As I explored the map, I aggressively seized several magical items, amongst which were a few “Increase Level”s, and a “Make Happy”.
“Player” was being rather frustrating, though. He kept using a possessed creature to break my traps and open me back up to attack. Once I had the Turncoat (Temporarily forces a creature to change sides) and Chicken (Turns an enemy creature into, well...you figure it out.) spells, this became less of a problem.
Once I had the gold again, Zachariah, the Elite Dark Angel, was summoned forth after I placed his convoluted room configuration, having to alt-tab to check its recipe a few times.
Things were going smoothly enough . . . and by catching “Player” off-guard with the occasional spell, I, again, managed to capture and torture some of his creatures. They were resilient, however, resisting my efforts to convert them.
“You have successfully interrogated an enemy creature in the Torture Chamber.”
I perked up. It wasn’t a new monster on my side, but maybe I’d get some critical information about “Player”’s dungeon!
“Dark secrets have been revealed by the victim in the torture chamber.”
He perished...and another dark tome appeared, dragged off to the library by an Imp who didn’t know any better. The whispers now permeated my dungeon in its entirety.
I rushed to heal the rest of his creatures, that I could convert them instead of causing another tome to appear. However, it was to no avail. The same thing happened….again.
Each time, the black tongue grew louder, and I was starting to hear it in my head, even wide awake as I was.
This was too much. I needed to quit. I opened up the menu, and for the first time since this entire debacle started, “Player” spoke up.
‘That’s not going to make it go away.’
So I had to soldier on, then...
I wasn’t alone.
“Your creatures are hearing voices, Keeper. Build a psychiatric ward.” The Mentor snarked, this message being the most stitched and garbled of them all. All of my creatures became sad, but...no one was revolting, so I kept the Make Happy unused.
Now I was getting desperate. I wanted the voices to stop! After setting up a ring of traps around my Dungeon Heart three tiles wide, I immediately sacrificed a Goblin, cast Create Imp into the temple pool, and grabbed up a Dwarf - able to breach enemy walls in seconds.
I went straight for his Dungeon Heart, no detours, no excuses, and used my Increase Level to heal and buff my creatures whenever my mana ran out and I could not sustain them with my Keeper healing.
It was a close one, but… I beat him. I pumped my fist into the air and cried out with a triumphant “YES!” as his Dungeon Heart collapsed into a pit of rubble. “You have defeated an Enemy Keeper.” The Mentor informed me, and added: “But at what cost?” I noticed that the text informing me to press space to go to the debriefing screen and escape to continue wasn’t there. I hadn’t won yet?
“Player” spoke up again.
‘Nice job. You finally beat me. Now it’s your problem.’
The pile of rubble was vanishing quickly. The pit was full of swirling darkness.
Darkness that quickly began to spread throughout the map.
My imps dropped whatever they were doing and fled. Most frustrating was the fact that ‘Whatever they were doing’ was getting my unconscious creatures back to their Lairs to heal up and recover!
Those who were claimed by the darkness gave an earsplitting scream of utter despair and anguish as they were consumed.
Then, they rose up into a shambling silhouette. The darkness spread rapidly, undeterred by terrain, traps, and doors, , breaking down dirt walls in its wake. Nothing was left untouched, even impenetrable rock was destroyed - and since that was, well, indestructible, it just vanished, no animation programmed in for that. This was inconsistent with the “cutscene” anomalies.
I would have quit immediately.
But that wouldn’t stop the whispers.
I felt completely and utterly helpless - until the darkness stopped, right in front of my dungeon.
I wondered why this was the case - “Player’s” dungeon had been swallowed up in its entirety. . .
Then, I noticed a large influx of Mana.
Every creature in my Dungeon was praying at the Temple. This must be keeping the darkness at bay! I gave a deep sigh of relief, but that relief turned to dread when some of my creatures left the Temple to sleep, eat, and relax, as they usually do. The darkness inched closer whenever they left.
By now, the Mentor’s constant reminders to go to bed had become twisted, garbled black speech in the same tongue that the tomes were whispering in.
“Your creatures are angry at the futility of their existence.”
And then, to make things even worse, a group of silhouettes moved through the darkness and emerged into my dungeon. My creatures could fight them off, but that meant abandoning their prayers and letting the shadows creep closer.
“Your creatures are terrified of their own mortality, Keeper.”
Unlike last time, I paid rapt attention to the Mentor’s updates on my minions’ moods. Mostly because they were a breath of sane, plain English cutting through the unintelligible garbling. Well, almost.
The Mentor’s voice now sounded...profane when he spoke in English. As if it was a mockery of the simplicity that was human speech.
“Your creatures are rebelling.”
He’d had enough.
Or more accurately, he’d found what he was looking for.
His health flower went from blue to white. . . and he was frothing at the mouth.
Terrified that more would join him, I clicked on it. “Make Happy.” I expected my remaining creatures’ moods to be lifted.
“Your creatures have been given the only mercy available.”
… Every single one of them dropped dead on the spot.
No keeping the Darkness at bay.
I could only watch now as it seeped through the halls of my Dungeon, breaking every room up on the way, before it reached my Dungeon Heart. Almeric stumbled out into the room with a stack of eldritch tomes in his arms and began screaming in the same language the books whispered in, that the Mentor droned on and on in, flipping rapidly through each volume, finding the incantations he needed and tossing the rest aside. The Darkness zeroed in on him, moving closer and closer and closer.
But just before he was consumed, he spoke the final word… and the black, rolling clouds of pitch swirled around my Dungeon Heart, seeping into it, vanishing within. The voices became stronger with each passing second.
… My problem now. . .
. . .
When the process was completed, Almeric was restored to my control and to a ‘Happy’ mood. He wandered over to a Lair tile and finally made a bed for himself. I was able to hit space to exit and claim my victory. It felt hollow. Empty. I knew what I had to do now. . . the secrets in my head could only be dispelled by being told. All the creatures I’d managed to capture - he’d done it on purpose.
The only thing keeping me from descending into madness was my newfound purpose. Continue the cycle. But I couldn’t thrust this on just anyone. I needed to find someone worthy. I left the debriefing screen to head back to the Sessions menu.
A laughing, panting skeleton was tied down in a torture chamber. Usually, in this kind of interlude, a Mistress was with him, giving him his kinky kicks.
But he was alone. He just kept laughing, and laughing ,and laughing…
I was laughing, too. I laughed with him until my voice gave out. The cutscene lasted for as long as it took for me to hit a key and move on.
After I gathered what vestigial fragments of my sanity that remained, and held them here long enough to document the events here, I went back to the Multiplayer menu.
I changed my name back to the default “Player”. My old username doesn't matter anymore. That person is dead now - even if I do find freedom, I doubt I'll be the same person I was yesterday. For now, though, I've got work to do.