When I reflect on gaming cut scenes that stand out to me (for good or bad reasons), more often than not they come from the games of old rather than those produced in recent years. In fact, these memories come, almost exclusively, from one of two places.
The first is Final Fantasy games – a game series that absolutely pushed the graphical limits of what the original Playstation hardware was capable of. I remember the Midgar train entrance of FF7, a failed sorceress assassination in FF8 (sorry spoilers), and everything involving Vivi or Steiner from FF9. These videos were important parts of the game – breaking up the action and allowing the player time to rest, and also moving the story along without expositional dialogue or awkward in-engine animations (of course these games also had plenty of that too).
The second place these memories come from is from Bullfrog games – particularly Theme Hospital and Theme Park. Their role was seemingly more cosmetic; they didn’t add to these games’ stories in any way, and had they not been included then few would have noticed or thought there was something missing. But what they did serve to do is reinforce the tone of these games, which for these was humorous, playful and, fun.
Cut scenes feature throughout Dungeon Keeper 2 – both on the game’s launch and at the end of each level. They are mostly incredibly short vignettes – lasting 5-10 seconds – and offer a seemingly random snapshot of dungeon life. In one a warlock makes scary faces at an imp before turning himself into a chicken. In another a skeleton pulls out his eye, puts it back in and walks off again.
Their superfluousness forces me to consider why it is they were even included in the first place. Yes it was on trend to include cut scenes in games, and I remember them looking and feeling far more impressive than they do today. But mainly I think they are there to remind the player that the playing experience is more than the mechanics of building rooms and possessing creatures. Instead, Bullfrog want you to immerse in the feel of being a dungeon master, to help you get into character.
Other parts of the game do this too. From allowing you to slap your creatures, to the suggestion of locking creatures in rooms and forcing them to work, to the throwaway narrator lines and notifications (“your creatures are complimenting you on your dungeon”). The visual style captures this as well – everything is dark, with your cursor offering light to the hallways that you navigate through.
In short, Dungeon Keeper 2 is a game that is clear on the mood it is trying to create, in a way few modern games are. And whilst the technology is dated, the designers’ intent is obvious and well executed.
Having first played 20 years ago, I can’t remember whether this tone and mood shifts throughout the course of the game, as the challenge becomes harder and the enemy threat amplifies. But it’s something I look forward to keeping a watchful eye on as I dive in further.