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June 19, 2007 - Customization can be an extremely cool thing. You can tailor make your experience the way you'd like it to be, adjusting things like the difficulty of a game or strategy the AI uses. However, if it's not rigidly constrained, it can sometimes wind up wildly spiraling out of control, turning just about any facet of gameplay into a random mess of occurrences. Such is the situation with Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, a new simulation/action RPG title from Global A Entertainment and Xseed Games. While the ability to construct your dungeon however you would like gives you a load of flexibility with the game, this same leeway will often wind up crippling your progress and the adventure aspect of the title, bogging down its enjoyment in the process.

The premise behind the game is unique amongst strategy/RPG games: you take on the role of a nameless young dungeon maker that arrives in a town and decides to use his talents to save the town from monsters in the surrounding area. He purchases a cave outside of the town and quickly sets about turning the limited space inside into a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and other areas. The plan is to layout the floor plans of the dungeons in a manner that attracts monsters, establishing territory that will allow the architect to enter and exterminate the beasts safely without endangering the townsfolk.

While killing off minor creatures like goblins and bats are helpful, the builder is trying to make a lair large and complex enough to attract a monster known as the Wandering Demon. By defeating the demon, the dungeon maker can free the town from the monsters forever.

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The townsfolk can be quite friendly -- you are their only hope, after all.

The town acts as a hub, which gives players a way to equip themselves with new gear and floor plan layouts, which they'll use to build their fledgling dungeon from a hole in the ground to a massive complex. Thanks to an armorer and a magic shop, players will be able to gain weapons, spells and other protective items to give them a chance against the beasts that collect in the dungeon. You'll also be able to acquire potions to heal yourself at an apothecary, ingredients for food recipes at a market, and even reward items based on your progress at the town's castle gates. The town is also where players will receive quests from townsfolk, asking for certain items or to defeat beasts you've brought in your dungeon.

There's a slight limitation placed upon the dungeon itself, which is that a player can only enter its walls once a day, meaning that a player needs to be prepared to explore and expand its boundaries whenever they enter the structure. As soon as they leave, they're barred from re-entering for another day. This often turns into a hunt and destroy mission at first, clearing out any potential threats that have accumulated after each day before you safely start construction. Assuming that you happen to have the blueprints in your inventory for an intersection, corner, room or corridor, you can place them down in any layout that strikes you. However you wind up planning your particular floor, you'll need to leave a little room to make sure that you can set stairs so you can expand to lower levels for your dungeon. You'll also want to make sure that you don't constrain yourself prematurely with your building, but you're not pinned down in a particular arrangement -- if you don't like a previous section that you've placed, you're allowed to destroy that built area and reclaim the elements that you used on that section of the dungeon. Not only does this provide for a ton of replayability, but it also allows for one of Dungeon Maker's interesting multiplayer features -- via Ad Hoc play, players can trade designed dungeons and explore what spaces your friends have designed.

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Welcome to your starter dungeon.

Once you've started laying down the initial pathways, nooks and crannies for each dungeon, you'll be able to upgrade its interior thanks to different décor elements. For instance, players will be able to change the hallways within the subterranean sections from dirt floors and walls to wood paneling, stone or even marble finishes. This isn't simply a cosmetic change to the dungeon; players will need to make these subtle changes to attract monsters to come to your space. Some monsters, particularly ones for quests you're received, will only appear once you've placed some of these remodeled sections in your cave. So, like a landlord looking to attract prospective tenants, you'll need to fix up your territory with amenities like water fountains or treasure rooms to increase the creatures interested in your dungeon. (Sure, it's a demented landlord looking to slaughter his tenants, but that's a minor issue...) As you expand your dungeon and improve its appearance, you'll receive a score for that floor, which is supposed to relate to the attractiveness to monsters that want to live on that floor.

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