My love/hate relationship with caverns goes all the way back to Mario. Yes the Mario, back before the Supers and race cars, and RPG versions. I remember the absolute glee when I discovered that I could squish my squat, pixellated avatar down a green tube, and I would shoot out in a “secret” area full of extra coins, power-ups, and turtle-birds. I always imagined Mario, sans inner tube, slaloming his way down the pipes like, well myself, at my favorite water park. After a lovely side-track from the “real” adventure, I would shove myself back up a pipe, much like Santa up the chimney, and voila it would be sunshine and flag poles again.
I stumbled across this early memory as I’ve been examining what I really think about caverns, caves, and dungeons. As much I thought I loved inside design, my travels in Moria, the ancient stronghold of the mighty dwarves, has me reconsidering if I’m really being honest with myself about my feelings on interior design!
Even today, if you ask me my first thought on dungeons, my initial gut reaction would be: awesome. All great games have nooks and crannies, fun little places to explore with your character and defeat the menaces of the world, right? My continuing fascination with console games, and the discovery of RPGs led me to believe that you wandered the world to find stuff, but all the really interesting things happened in dungeons.
Of course, I probably am stretching “dungeon” a bit far here. Anything that gets me off the greenery map and involved tight spaces and careful maneuvering counts. When MMO’s first came out, dungeons lost a bit of allure. It’s hard to feel that exploring the secret nook and cranny of the infamous spider is really, you know, exciting when 100 other gals and guys are tromping spider ichor in and out of a cave every 5 minutes. But with the advent of instanced content, group content that could be private, secret, secure from the ravages of too many bodies for too tight a space, dungeons regained their fun-factor for me.
While I have a ton of excellent memories of fun times spent alone and with friends exploring the depths of dungeons, the last couple of weeks has brought to mind the many times I did not enjoy dungeons: when inside design actually hindered some of my enjoyment of the game.
It’s not that I don’t like caves. I do. But I’ve discovered that I can only take them in limited doses. While I might play a dwarf from time to time, I’m just not made to be an adventurer who wanders around indoors for days and weeks without ever seeing the light of day. I honestly tried to find some screenshots to illustrate the various times over my gaming career when I got fed up on the inside experience: Molten Core and Mag’s Lair being prime examples, but I couldn’t find a single shot. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the content itself, the fights were fun! But the act of spending multiple nights a week locked underground just don’t float my boat.
I’ve managed to be a bit more successful in Moria. There are some really great architectural features that almost come as a surprise after days and days of tunnels.
Dungeons can be fun without being dark, tight, and cramped. An entire dungeon does not have to be devoted to a single concept of dreariness. Oftentimes, it’s the little touches, the spire that reaches to the heavens that makes an interior space, especially an otherwise depressing and rather dreary place, become a favorite.