Better dungeons...

Better dungeons...

Icewind Dale

I recently played to Icewind Dale I Enhanced Edition. Being a fan of the Baldur's Gate series and Icewind Dale II, discovering this game (I never played IWD1 due to OS compatibility issues) was pure delight.


One of the most striking thing in this game is the soundtrack. There is about 50 beautiful music tracks, each setting the scene for specific areas.

Eastheaven theme, the starting city:
Lower Dorn's Deep theme, huge underground dungeon:

Game environment


When you compare Icewind Dale I & II, you see that many areas from the first have been used in the second:

  • The village of Kuldahar

  • Dragon's eye (massive dungeon with 4 maps in common)

  • The Severed Hand (massive dungeon with 9 maps in common)

They reuse the same maps between the two games !
Dragon Age 2 did the quite same by re-using same dungeon areas in the campaign, but I believe Dragon Age failed compared to what did Icewind dale:

  • Reused maps from DA2 differs from the other ones only with the placement of doors, no major changes are introduced.
  • Reused maps from DA2 are smaller and were fully explored each time
  • Reused maps from DA2 had no background, no story, they were just maps where you kill monsters.

Environment interaction

The Infinity Engine games (Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate, ...) have this nice feature: When you click on some objects on the map, it fires a little popup giving a description of the clicked object.

My Dungeon

I created about 7 dungeons since I joined the development team of La Colère d'Aurile (chronological order):

  • The Illithids
  • The Ice-peak Island:
    • The undeads
    • The labyrinth

      A nice copy of the one in the Watchtower in BG2 : Throne of Bhaal, but with a golem that randomly teleports in the areas to kill you
  • The Underdark:
    • The Drows fortress

      A dungeon that continuously spawns drows forcing the players to build a balanced team to endure the run.

      The funny thing is that a team of 6 players level 30 can fail while 4 players level 20 can success easily :)
    • The Drider's lair
    • The Beholder's den

      Where spell casters are useless and crushed very quickly
  • The Golem-maker workshop

    Very small dungeon with enigmas and original fights:
    • A path to find between traps
    • A bridge to unlock by standing in 3 circles and matching the skill requirements
    • A golem that is invincible to non-magic death (you have to kill it with an instant death spell)
    • A golem that changes its form and gain/lose immunity to damage types according to its form

I always focused my dungeons on challenge: Usually the player must go to different points on the map to gather items, unlock things, ... and kill all monsters in their path.
Some dungeons are very nice and original (due to their scripts), but this time I really wanted to do something more "calm", focused on reflexion and storyline (a bit like Myst !).

There are still monsters, but they are here only because there can't be dungeons without monsters :)
Once you defeated the monsters, you can walk almost freely in the dungeon to find the secrets and resolve the enigmas...

Setting the scene

This dungeon is about dwarves, old dwarves, ghost dwarves, cursed for the eternity...

I took my inspiration from:

  • Dorn's Deep from Icewind Dale I
  • The ghosts from the Severed Hand from Icewind Dale I
  • Mithral hall from the Drizzt books
  • The Moria mines from the Lord of the Rings
  • The Divinity series and their secrets
  • Baldur's Gate

I've not yet finished to write the storyline, but I have a good vision to what the quest will look like.

Breaking the tile-based area

Using the Invisible Tile Construction Helper, you can remove any tile from an interior area and clear the vision to create your own world using only placeables.

Bridge over a lava river, inspired from The Lord of the Rings: Lava river
We are not anymore limited by the height of the map
The height 0 (where you are usually limited to) is at the same level as the bridge.

Dwarf forges: Dwarf forges
The height 0 is at the bottom of the forges.

Machine room, inspired from the Elemental plane of Air from Baldur's Gate 2: Machine room
You can't see the bottom of the area, but it would be visible if i was using a standard tileset.
The height 0 is not far under the lowest wooden platforms.

These invisible tiles allows the mapper to create much more immersive areas and follow his imagination.
The major drawback when using these invisible tiles is that you need to create the walkmesh yourself, and placeable walkmesh calculation can be really painful.


Anvil tune

This is the first puzzle the players will have to resolve:
They must hit the anvils in the correct order to open the gate.
The sequence is 8 hit length, and the result (open the door or painful punishment) is only known at the end of the sequence.
Basically it is impossible to find the sequence without knowing it (it is so impossible that the players won't lose time brute-forcing the sequence)

The sequence randomly generated and is shown in another room not far from the gate:
Look at the curtains on the wall: red-yellow-red-yellow
There are four other colors in the left wall to complete the sequence.

The machine room

Place correctly the wheels to activate the machine:

It took me quite long time to design this system because il was involving many things:

  • The cog-wheel design:
    • The model and texture unfolding was made by Romain Pelle, a friend who is far better than me at creating 3d models
    • Texture, normal map and tint map creation
    • Imported in NWN2 as a placeable and a visual effect
    • The wheels are in fact creatures (because placeable objects can't be rotated) that have been applied the newly created "cog-wheel" visual effect
  • The glyphs on the cog wheel
    • Because the glyphs must rotate, they are also visual effects attached to the cog-wheel creature
    • Because we can't place visual effects at a certain position relative to the creature, I generated 8*8*2 = 128 visual effect files (one for each color, for each wheel tooth, for the up and low position of the wheel)
    • The generation script has been written in D for fun :) (Note that the visual effects are in XML format)
  • The rotation system (maybe the fastest part)
    • If two wheel touch, turn them
    • If the final wheel is connected to other wheels, turn only if the wheels heading is correct

The Gates

The final room of the dungeon isn't very far from its entry. The problem is that 3 huge gates are preventing the players from finishing the dungeon too soon.
They will have to find a way to go through the 3 doors, either by finding how to open it, or another way to skip it.
Clues will be spread all over the dungeon so careful players will quickly find the solution

Boom !

I made explosive kegs:

The player will find one or two of these in the dungeon. He will have to make it explode near some specific rocks (clue given) to open a passage to the machine room.
If he blows up the kegs in the wrong place, he will fail the dungeon and will have to restart it from the beginning.
This is frustrating but I believe this will encourage players to restart with more attention rather than make them leave.

Temptation room

Just for trolling:
This room is full of gold and magic items. Know what? you can't enter : The door is damaged and blocked. There is absolutely no way to enter.

Just for fun I put a useless gong next to the door, so players can think there is something to do with it to unlock the door... :)

Audio and visual effects

The ambiance must be mysterious and sometimes scary.


The base music is Vale of Shadows from Icewind Dale I
The combat music is Lower Dorn's Deep from Icewind Dale I (again !)

The combat music is controlled by NWN2, but also by some encounters that launch the music some seconds before the combat begins.


Some encounters spawn continuously, for ~1 minute, aggressive dwarf ghosts.
Before they spawns the ghosts, they can play some events:

  • Close some doors, making wind and door stretch sounds and trapping the player
  • Change the fire colors to a "soulish" blue:
  • Or both



There are dwarf ghosts that are not aggressive: They are only repeating some random unfinished sentences, ignoring the player.
They are here to set the ambiance and frustrate the player: You can see and hear them from far, but once you approach them, they disappear before you can touch or speak with them...

There are other dwarves that are more aggressive, and are used as encounter monsters.


Wraith are aggressive ghosts that looks like the Ringwraiths in the Lord of the Rings.
They randomly appear behind your back, screaming and making creepy noises, to attack you once before disappearing.

They automatically touch you, and you must succeed a will save versus death or die immediately. If you are still alive, you will have to do a will save against fear or run away randomly in the room :)


They are the guardians of the dwarf complex.
They appear deactivated, and are harmless but invulnerable until activated.
How they are activated? The player don't know... but you should avoid touching what they protect :)

There are different types of golem:

  • Ancient iron golem: They are tanky but slow
  • Disk thrower: Much quicker, it throws 2 disks per rounds that you can't avoid (reflex save to reduce the amount of damages)
  • (planned) Gold golem: a particularly dumb machine that attacks players by falling on the floor, face first, crushing anything under it. Once it has fallen, it gets up and falls again... (this can be funny)

I'm still working on the dungeon, so many things will change.
Thank you for reading ;)