Descent to Undermountain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Descent to Undermountain
Dungeons and Dragons Descent to Undermountain box.png
Cover art: "Spellfire" by Clyde Caldwell[2]
Designer(s)Chris Avellone
Scott Bennie
John Deiley
Robert Holloway
Steve Perrin
Programmer(s)Andrew Pal
Robert Hanz
Artist(s)Robert Nesler
Kevin Beardslee
Composer(s)Richard Band
Rick Jackson
Ron Valdez
Platform(s)DOS, Windows
ReleaseJanuary 15, 1998[1]

Descent to Undermountain is a role-playing video game developed and published by Interplay in 1998. Based on the Dungeons & Dragons setting of Undermountain in the Forgotten Realms, it casts the player as an adventurer out to explore the treasure-filled recesses of the Undermountain dungeon. The "Descent" part of the name refers to the game's use of the 3D rendering engine from the 1995 game Descent.

Descent to Undermountain had a troubled development cycle. The Descent engine turned out to be unsuited for a role-playing game, leading to ballooning budgets and protracted delays. Interplay decided to ship the game in time for Christmas 1997, resulting in a rushed product - although it failed to make even that deadline and actually shipped on January 15 of the next year. The game received very negative reviews and has been called the worst Dungeons & Dragons video game ever.


The player character is an adventurer who has come to Waterdeep looking for employ from Khelben Blackstaff, high mage of the city. Blackstaff informs the player that people have been disappearing mysteriously, and some return from Undermountain with frightening tales. Blackstaff assigns several quests to the player character so he can find out the cause behind the renewed activity from the dungeon.

It emerges that the Flame Sword of Lolth is buried somewhere deep within the dungeon. Whoever should possess the artifact would gain control of an undead army from the Abyss. The followers of Lolth, the Drow, are seeking the sword. The only way to subdue the power of the Sword is to reassemble the Spider Amulet, which was broken into eight pieces and scattered throughout Undermountain.

Lolth is the final boss of the game.


Descent to Undermountain uses the same game mechanics as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. At the start of the game, the player chooses one of six different races and four different classes for his character, with multi-classing as an option. These choices impact the player's statistics, which are used to determine the probability of successfully completing ingame actions.

The Yawning Portal Inn in Waterdeep serves as a hub area. In between quests to Undermountain, the player may trade with non-player characters (NPCs) at the inn for goods and services.

Undermountain allowed the player to interact with NPCs, monsters, and the general environment from a first-person perspective. Real-time combat would mix with puzzles to provide a variety of challenges throughout the vast dungeon.

Defeated enemies may drop items or gold coins. Other such "loot" may also be found lying at random on dungeon floors. These collectibles can be traded with merchants at the Waterdeep hub.


Descent to Undermountain was developed by Chris Avellone, Scott Bennie, John Deiley, Robert Holloway, and Steve Perrin. The game is based on the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, which was published at the time by TSR, Inc. Programmers were Andrew Pal, James Gardner, Robert Holloway and Chris Farenetta.

The game partially derives its title from the use of the Descent 3D graphical engine. The game was not the first to bring PC role-playing into a 3D environment: Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls series and Looking Glass Studios' Ultima Underworld series preceded it. However, Descent was the first to use a true 3D engine as opposed to a sprite-based 2.5D solution.

The usage of the Descent engine presented immediate difficulties for the development team. In an interview early in the game's development, creative director Michael McConnohie commented, "The combat is the most difficult thing for us now because the collision spheres used in Descent are further out from your craft, and don't lend themselves to up-close combat. Being able to work those down to the point where you can actually hit a biped with a hand weapon is quite a challenge."[3]

The game was initially designed to include a networkable four-player mode,[3] but there was no time left to implement it.

The cover art, "Spellfire" by Clyde Caldwell, was previously used as a cover art for Ed Greenwood's 1987 novel Spellfire and Westwood Studios' 1992 role-playing video game Order of the Griffon.


Descent to Undermountain was generally poorly received.[4] The decision to use the Descent graphics engine was cited as a design issue, as it required heavy rewrites to the code in order to support an RPG setting such as Undermountain.[5] According to game designer Eric Bethke, bugs, poor AI, the unappealing and shoddy nature of the graphics, and several other issues have attributed to a general consensus of the game as an example of a title that was pushed to release before it was ready.[6] Technical issues existed in the concept which delayed development, forcing redesigns and re-engineering. Ultimately the "quick change" to Descent's rendering engine proved to be extremely challenging which exceeded the technical understanding of the corporate leadership who were resolved to predetermined delivery dates. This lack of understanding led to a hurried development cycle, and the game was maligned by Bethke as "a classic example of a game that was shipped too early."[7]

Julian Schoffel, in the Australian PCWorld, called the game "woeful", with the hope that the following release, Baldur's Gate, might "redeem" Interplay as a company.[8] On the other hand, Ahmed Kamal Nava of the New Straits Times called it the best role-playing game of 1997.[9]

Next Generation reviewed the PC version of the game, rating it one star out of five, and stated that "When it comes to graphics and gameplay, most players will end up taking a quick look at this one and then shrugging it aside."[10]

According to GameSpy, "Descent to Undermountain had only one virtue - it made everybody forget about Gorgon's Alliance and the entire previous two years of atrocious Dungeons & Dragons games".[11]

Interplay acknowledged this poor reception with an easter egg in the computer role-playing game Fallout 2, released a year after Undermountain. The player may obtain a magic 8-ball item which typically dispenses advice but also has a few gag lines. One of these is "Yes, we KNOW Descent to Undermountain was crap."[12]


  1. ^ "INTERPLAY RELEASES 360 DEGREE AD&D; ROLE-PLAYING GAME". January 15, 1998. Archived from the original on July 10, 1998. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  2. ^ "Spellfire". Clyde Caldwell Online. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Descent to Undermountain: The Flame Sword of Lloth". Next Generation (11): 130–131. November 1995. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  4. ^ Gregson, Chris (1997). "Gamespot review". Gamespot.
  5. ^ "Interplay 98 (Part 1)". IGN. May 13, 1998. Archived from the original on 2014-02-25.
  6. ^ Bethke, Eric (April 11, 2003). "Structural Key Design Elements". Gamasutra. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  7. ^ Bethke, Erik (2003). Game Development and Production. Wordware Publishing, Inc. p. 79. ISBN 9781556229510.
  8. ^ Schoffel, Julian (April 1, 1998). "RPG Revival". PCWorld. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved September 26, 2012. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  9. ^ Nava, Ahmed Kamal (January 19, 1998). "Some Good Picks of the Year That Was". Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved September 6, 2012. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  10. ^ "Finals". Next Generation. No. 41. Imagine Media. May 1998. pp. 112, 116.
  11. ^ Rausch, Allen (2004-08-18). "A History of D&D Video Games - Part IV". Game Spy. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  12. ^ Black Isle Studios (1998). Fallout 2. Interplay. Level/area: Shark Club, New Reno.

External links[edit]