Dungeon Master is considered to be the first 3D realtime action computer role-playing game, published in 1987 for the Atari ST by FTL Games. and went on to become the Atari ST's best selling product of all time, reaching an astounding market penetration of more than 50% of the Atari STs ever sold.
An almost identical Amiga version was released the following year that was the first computer game to use 3D sound effects. The game was also ported to PC, Apple IIGS, TurboGrafx-CD, SNES, Sharp X68000, PC-9801 and FM Towns and translated from English into German, French, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
While previous games such as Alternate Reality: The Dungeon, The Bard's Tale, Ultima and Wizardry offered Dungeons & Dragons-style role playing, Dungeon Master established several new standards for role playing and computer games in general. Dungeon Master was a real-time game instead of the traditional turn-based approach that was prevalent until then. Instead of using text-based commands to interact with the environment, players directly manipulated objects and the environment by clicking the mouse in the enlarged first-person view. Abstract Dungeons and Dragons style experience points and levels were eschewed in favour of a system where the characters' skills were improved directly via using them. It also introduced some novel control methods including the spell casting system, which involved learning sequences of runes which represented the form and function of a spell's effect. For example, a fireball spell was created by mixing the fire symbol with the wing symbol. This kind of attention to detail and focus on the user interface was typical of the game and helped create an often captivating sense of craft and ingenuity. Other factors in immersiveness were the then-revolutionary use of sound effects to indicate when a creature was nearby, and (primitive) dynamic lighting.
Another factor in its popularity may have been the imaginative mythology, with players often reporting a nurturing identity with their chosen characters. Nancy Holder, wife of producer Wayne Holder, wrote the storyline in the manual (from a base scenario suggested by Michael Newton and the FTL team). She is a successful novelist, having written for series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Smallville.
Many reviewers considered Dungeon Master as the best example of its genre, despite the many clones that arrived to challenge it. First of these was Bloodwych (1989), featuring similar game play but adding a mode allowing two simultaneous players on one machine. Other notable clones included Captive and Eye of the Beholder. While Dungeon Master itself was inspired by early Ultima games, it was also itself the source of inspiration for the later Ultima Underworld game. Game journalist Niko Nirvi wrote that no 3D role playing title before Ultima Underworld (1992) could challenge Dungeon Master as a game.
To date Dungeon Master retains a small but faithful following online, with several fan ports and remakes available or in development.
Dungeon Master received dozens of prestigious awards including the first ever Special Award for Artistic Achievement from Computer Gaming World (CGW) when it was initially released. It was retired directly from the top spot in the CGW game ratings as one of the original members of the CGW Hall of Fame in November 1989 after having spent almost a year in the top spot with no serious challenger. There was some speculation by the game's developers that the CGW Hall of Fame was created for the purpose of removing Dungeon Master from the CGW ratings list since the game had achieved its sales records and domination of the rankings despite never buying any advertising for the game in the U.S. market.
The following list of awards is comprehensive, but not complete. Notably, it does not include any of the many awards that followed the game's release in Japan in 1990.
- Special Award for Artistic Achievement awarded in 1988 by Computer Gaming World
- Adventure Game of the Year, 1988 — UK Software Industry Awards
- Best Selling Atari ST Title, 1988 — UK Software Industry Awards
- Best Role Playing Game, 1988 — PowerPlay Magazine (German)
- Best Role Playing Game, 1988 — Tilt Magazine
- Best Sound Effects, 1988 — Tilt Magazine
- Game of the Year, 1988 — Computer Play Magazine
- Best Atari ST Game, 1988 — Computer Play Magazine
- Game of the Year, 1988 — 4th Generation Magazine (French)
- "Golden Sword" Award ,1988 — The Adventurer's Club of the UK
- Best Role Playing Game, 1988 — The Adventurer's Club of the UK
- "Beastie Award", 1988 — Dragon Magazine
- Best Atari ST Title, 1988 — Dragon Magazine
- Best Game, 1989 — Amiga World Magazine
- Best Role Playing Game, 1989 — Amiga World Magazine
- Best Amiga Game, 1989 — Game Player's Magazine
- Best Amiga Game, 1989 — Datormagazin (Swedish)
- "Beastie Award" Best Apple //GS Title, 1989 — Dragon Magazine
- Best Game, 1989 — Info Magazine
- Best of the Amiga, 1989 — Compute magazine
- Inducted as an original member in the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame in 1989
- Designated as one of the 100 Best Games by PowerPlay Magazine (German, date uncertain)
The game was reviewed in 1988 in Dragon Magazine #136 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4½ out of 5 stars.
A soundtrack album, titled Dungeon Master: The Album, was released later. This album featured music composed by Darrell Harvey, Rex Baca, and Kip Martin.
The game features music composed for the FM Towns game, as well as FM Towns version of Chaos Strikes Back, and some original tracks that were inspired by the games.
- According to "The Definitive CDTV Retrospective: Part II" by Peter Olafson, Dungeon Master was ported to the Amiga CDTV but this version was never completed because FTL could not obtain reliable information from Commodore about saving games to memory cards.
- Dungeon Master was also ported to Macintosh but never released.
- There exists a prototype for the Atari Lynx under the name Dungeon Slayers.
- Dungeon Master: Chaos Strikes Back
- Dungeon Master II: The Legend of Skullkeep
- Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest
- Dungeon Master Nexus
- FTL Games
- 'Dungeon Master' at MobyGames
- Dungeon Master Encyclopaedia
- Dungeon Master dust off after 10 years 5/5 Stars rating in review (Internet Archive Backup from 2007-04-11 )