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Dungeon Master - The Atari Times

Dungeon Master

The one that started it all. Probably.
by Gregory D. George

March 3, 2014
I was introduced to Dungeon Master in the strangest of places: Summer School back in 1988! My school actually had several Atari STs set up in the room where my class was held (Geometry, I wanted to go actually!) Turns out the teacher and one of the other students were hooked on it, and even had maps all printed up to get them through the game! (Yes, still have my copy of the maps!)

So needless to say, it was this game that really piqued my interest in the Atari ST computer. Sure, I had the 2600, 7800, and Atari 800XL, but didn't have the money and didn't see the need for an Atari ST. Until this game.

It wasn't for several years did I finally get around to buying an Atari STe. But when I did, Dungeon Master was the first game I bought. And since then, I've played through it at least 3 times (and started but not finished several other games.)

The Game

Dungeon Master is a first person perspective RPG. Your goal is to save the Shadow Lord by restoring his light and dark halves together. You start at the top of the dungeon and work your way down. On the way you'll encounter over a dozen monsters, tons of puzzles, lots of different weapons (swords, staffs, bows & arrows, ninja stars, knives, rocks), and a seemingly endless array of spells!

You can have up to four members in your party and each of them has Health, Stamina, and Manna (magic) levels that must be maintained. If you run out of Health, your character will die (but can be revived if you find the right altar.) Your Stamina will decrease if you weigh your character down with too much stuff or run around the dungeon like a crazy person. Your Manna will decrease as you use magic spells (fireballs!) or create potions.

You must also keep your party fed and give them water to drink. Fortunately, plenty of food can be found in the game and even some monsters can be used for food (Screamer Slice!) They don't actually need sleep, but you can use that to build your Health, Stamina, and Manna levels if they get low. But make sure you find a safe place to take a nap because sometimes the monsters will attack while you're dozing!

You can arrange your party how you like and it actually makes a difference! Placing your fighters in the front and your wizards and ninjas in the back is the best strategy as those in the back are less likely to get attacked.

One of the great features of Dungeon Master is the manner in which your party members gain skills. With RPG's of today, you are often required to add points to whatever skill you want. But Dungeon Master takes a different approach. Instead, you build your skills by DOING stuff, just like you would in real life. For example, as you try new spells and succeed, your manna increases as do your Wisdom level. As you through Ninja stars and rocks your Dexterity will improve. As you lug equipment around (and throw boulders) your Strength will improve. Makes more sense to me than assigning points!


Control is completely mouse based, but there are some keyboard short cuts you can make. (including using the arrow keys to move around.) The mouse is the best way to go in almost any situation. Creating spells is very easy to do as you just click the "words" you want and then "fire" it off.

Attacking is very easy! First you will need to add the weapon to the characters right-hand and the attack will appear under the spell area. Just click the "Attack" button and some choices will appear depending on the weapon. "Slash", "Parry", "Chop", "Shoot", "Throw" are just some of the choices.


The graphics were mind blowing at the time! Remember, this game was released in the early days of Nintendo. So a game with the amount of detail like this was uncommon.

The enemy monsters are nicely detailed. And it's easy to make out all of the items in the game. The walls get a bit dull since everything is the same but after awhile you don't even notice it anymore. And it's actually a good thing that the walls look so similar because it helps you find critical secrets, like a button, when you're used to seeing the same thing every time. Something "different" will really stand out.

I like the detail on the skeleton graphic. Looks very realistic to me! Also, the dragon himself is very nicely detailed. Too bad I had to kill him for dragonsteaks.

One more thing to worry about is the fact that if you don't keep a light shining, either by torch or by magic, you will be in the dark. There aren't "lighting effects" to speak of other than seeing the darkness close in as your torch runs out.

Sound / Music

There is no music. Music is overrated! Honestly, I don't get how the music helps you feel like you're in the game? It's not like a dungeon explorer would have his iPod jamming out on tunes as he kills skeletons, mummies, rock monsters, knights, purple guys, and flying snakes. In fact, not having music puts you into the game more than having music would. So, no music is a good thing.

As for the sound, it's great. It's everything you'd expect. The "wooshing" of a sword swing, the screeching of the enemies, the "thump" as you get hit, the explosions of the fireballs, the "bzzzzzttt" as you go through a teleporter all sound great.

Final Thoughts

Dungeon Master is the game that put the Atari ST on the map. Nothing else even comes close. If you've never played an RPG before because you thought they were lame or boring, just spend 30 minutes with this game. Before long you will be engulfed in the adventure and excitedly looking for the next critter to kill or equipment to wear.

It's been over 26 years since Dungeon Master was released. And after all this time, we are still talking about it. If that's not the mark of a great game that leaves an impression, I don't know what is.

There are many ways to play Dungeon Master today. You could go with an Atari ST emulator, or you could find the PC version of the game. I would suggest starting at http://dmweb.free.fr/

Happy dungeon crawling!

The Dungeon part of title "zooms" in which is a pretty cool effect.
Hm. This is a tricky puzzle. Should I press that button?
Iaido is going to get hungry if all you feed him is an apple!
Yeah, these mummys aren't that hard to beat... aw crap!
Dungeon Master
System: Atari-ST
Publisher: FTL
Genre: RPG
Graphics Score: 95%
Sound & Music Score: 95%
Gameplay Score: 100%
Control Score: 95%

Final Score: 100%

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