Dungeon Keeper 3: War for the Overworld

1999/2000 - Developed by Bullfrog Productions; Produced by Electronic Arts


Dungeon Keeper is considered by many as one of the best real-time strategy games ever made and quickly gained a huge fanbase after its release in 1997. The follow-up, however, did not do as well as expected in the marketplace. When the decision was made to go on with the series, the developers were instructed to make Dungeon Keeper 3 more accessible so that the game would reach a wider audience. With a small team of only three people, the project entered the conceptual stage in November of 1999. Roughly four months later, Electronic Arts pulled the plug in favour of games that promised more profit and were less risky, but they did not let the public know about the cancellation until August 1, 2000.

Source credits: Ernest W. Adams

Creator Speaks

The Story Behind Dungeon Keeper 3

Written by Ernest W. Adams for pcGTW, August 2006

In August of 1999, I was brought from EA headquarters in Redwood City, California to Bullfrog Productions in Guildford, England, to be the lead designer on the next game in the Populous series. (EA had already purchased Bullfrog at that time, and Peter Molyneux had left to found Lionhead.) Populous: The Beginning had been something of a disappointment (financially) and a Bullfrog team had worked on a sequel for a while without getting very far. I came to start over and provide some new blood. We called the project Genesis: The Hand of God, and did some great prototype work on it for several months.

Horny staring at the sky (from the DK3 trailer)

Unfortunately, Lionhead was hard at work on Black and White at the time, which EA was going to publish. The Bullfrog management became concerned that we were too close to Black and White. I disputed that on various creative grounds, but marketing people see things differently. The upshot was that Genesis got cancelled. They looked around for something else to do with me, and decided on Dungeon Keeper 3. There were only three of us on the project: Nick Goldsworthy, the producer; me, the lead designer; and Nick Ricks, a game designer working for me. At that point I thought, well, this is a franchise that the company has already turned into two products, they’ll be behind this. However, we also knew that Keeper 2 hadn’t performed as well as hoped in the marketplace, so we were under instructions to make the new version more accessible.

We started work around November of 1999 with just the three of us – no programmers or artists – doing high-level concept design. We had a number of key changes in mind. First, in an effort to remove some of the ambiguity about the nature of the game (which would have comforted marketing and the retailers), Keeper 3 would have been more of a straightforward RTS. Not merely a copy of all the others, though; we were still keeping portals and the need to nurture unique individual creatures, as well as retaining the imps and chickens. Another huge change, which I was very much looking forward to, was a move above ground so that instead of building a dungeon by digging you built a castle by construction – not unlike the later Stronghold games. This required some thinking, as an underground dungeon is effectively safe and hidden until the walls are breached, while a castle is just the opposite: it’s both visible and vulnerable until the walls are completed. We didn’t get far enough to resolve this question; it was just something we knew we would have to address.

The third major change we had in mind was to add a new race, and to let you play any of the three: Heroes, Dungeon-Dwellers, or the third race, the Elders. The Dungeon-Dwellers we expected to be very similar to the familiar ones from the earlier games. Their castle would look black and evil, and all the land around it would start to decay and become vile. The Heroes we decided to make very clean and organized – their castles would be white stone and beautiful, and the landscape under their control very orderly and neat, rather like Switzerland. The new race, the Elders, would have represented the spirit of wilderness, neither good nor evil, just wild and untamed. Their castle would have looked very organic, formed of trees and hills, and the land all overgrown with forests and vines. One item on the task list was to devise equivalent creatures to the Horned Reaper for each of these other races.

We also planned to make the economy of the game a little more interesting by including peasant farmers whom you would try to control and exploit, rather than simply digging out gold. We hoped to make it more a game of growth and evolution, moving a little closer to Age of Empires (in economic terms) than simply a question of mass production.

One of our major goals was to improve multiplayer play. Earlier versions of Dungeon Keeper were never very good in multiplayer modes, because the underground layouts were rigidly symmetrical, and both sides always had exactly the same kinds of creatures to play with. It really became a race for resources more than anything else. We wanted to make a more asymmetric game in which players could choose to play any of the races, each of which would have its own strengths and weaknesses. I considered StarCraft a major inspiration, and played a lot of it in those days.

Another screenshot from the DK3 trailer

At some point in the project, Nick Goldsworthy and I swapped roles – he had been producer on Dungeon Keeper 2 and wanted to do more design. I was willing to give that a try. However, the difference was minor – we were all working on design.

We got a fair bit of work done, thinking about typical RTS-like issues – supply lines, siege engines that needed creatures to work them, creating unique individuals by mesh warping, interfaces for managing mixed indoor and outdoor combat (the dungeon heart would still have been inside the castle), and so on. However, it all became moot about March of 2000. Electronic Arts foresaw bad times ahead because of the downturn in game sales that preceded the arrival of the PlayStation 2. This was exactly analogous to the slump the industry is in now as it awaits the PlayStation 3 – consumers are waiting for the new machine, and not buying new games for the old one. The company decided to retrench and avoid any risky projects, especially PC projects, which don’t make as much money as console ones do. At the same time – unbeknownst to us – they were negotiating with J.K. Rowling for the rights to Harry Potter, and with New Line Cinema for the rights to The Lord of the Rings. Given the choice between an experimental DK3 and the absolute license-to-print-money that were Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, it wasn’t a difficult decision. Dungeon Keeper 3 was cancelled, and we were moved on to other things. In addition, the company began laying off staff because of the financial losses they anticipated (and indeed eventually suffered – their first money-losing quarter in ten years happened because of the downturn between consoles). Finally, they did away with the Bullfrog brand entirely. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings weren’t going to be Bullfrog-brand games, but they were being made by Bullfrog people, so in effect there was no more Bullfrog.

So DK3 existed as an ongoing project between about November of 1999 and March of 2000. I have no idea who set up the website – there was never much on it, and neither I nor any of my team was involved. It was never more than a teaser, really. [...] That’s about all there is to say. I understand the financial motives for killing it, but I regret it all the same – it would have been fun to work on and, I believe, fun to play as well!

Game Credits

Lead DesignerErnest W. Adams
Game Design Nick Ricks
Producer Nick Goldsworthy

Concept Art

The concept art below was created by Nick Ricks for Electronic Arts.

Elder Forest View Hero Castle View Keeper Fortress View

ยป more concept art


By Christopher on 11.06.2008 22:07 IP: -.-.-.-
Dungeon Keeper was one of the few games that has inspired to take the education path i'm going: Gaming programmer.
Being among those that made DK3 would really be a joy for me, its really something i would enjoy being part of making.

By Nutz on 11.06.2008 12:36 IP: -.-.-.-
DK1 was awesome but I think after that, it went a little astray. DK2 is fun, mind you, but not as much so as 1, it lacks darker more sarcastic humor and underground feeling to it. DK2 looks more like some very rocky place as opposed to underground. I think if DK3 is to be done, it should take whats good from 1, add my pet dungeon from 2, some good graphics, better multi-player and editing and maybe add a 3rd dimension with the above ground parts playing a minor role. An extra team could be added in, but it might detract a little from what makes dungeon keeper... Dungeon keeper, the Idea of playing as an evil dungeon overlord aiming for world conquest.

By French67 on 02.06.2008 17:32 IP: -.-.-.-
What about making on open-source DKIII? Would this infringe on copyright law?
For example, some programmers would give some of their time to create the game (collaborative development), and instead of naming it Dungeon Keeper III , they would name it: "Underground Keeper"
And that's it! I'm sure Lionhead Studios would be for it (and it would make them free advertizing without any costs!)

By Rudolp Britz on 24.04.2008 06:24 IP: -.-.-.-
Damn, really sad. I really want to play Dungeon Keeper. The idea of the game is very good. DK 1 and DK 2 was very nice. DK 1 was must beter than DK 2, but DK 2 graphics was better and more funny. So they want to Made DK 3 out in the Daylight. Come one that will be a brilliant idea. Is will be more fun and graphic will be nice. When DK 3 come on for sure. I will really buy the offical game next. They must made it on a online game too. Damn i am crying for it. I am sure it now TIME TO BRING DUNGEON KEEPER BACK.

By Patrick on 22.04.2008 21:08 IP: -.-.-.-
They just have to bring back the Reaper! Dungeon Keeper 3, please... or hand it over to Peter at Lionhead Studios! He'll be willing to take the "risk" which won't be one. Watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3SEl3TfP68 for my "We want it" promoting video on YouTube!

By Thanos on 05.04.2008 13:02 IP: -.-.-.-
Played Dungeon Keeper, when I was 10 years old for the first time (97). Since then, every year I feel compelled to start playing it again, and again. It's the only game that I play these days on my PC.
The best game ever.
Damn shame, that I didn't like DKII and Dungeon Keeper 3 never came out.

By windowskiller [admin] on 23.02.2008 17:10 IP: -.-.-.-
Er... what? Are you trying to say that they ripped the ideas from WarCraft III? Then they must have the power of time-travelling because DK3 was cancelled 2 years *before* WC3 came out. Moreover, it's not that Blizzard invented those races either...

By Capt_Poco on 23.02.2008 17:02 IP: -.-.-.-
Thanks for posting the concept art, but the game design screams "Blizzard-clone". Elders=Night Elves, Dungeon-Dwellers=Undead, Heroes=Humans. No offense, but it doesn't take some kind of computer-design genius to figure out why they canceled you. DK was cool not because it out-Blizzard-ed Blizzard but because it tried something new and cool.

By Nate on 21.02.2008 01:25 IP: -.-.-.-
like MANY people said before me, RTS games are too common. This one style of gameplay was amazing.

i can see the problem with the whole "building a dungeon above-ground" thing, so why not do it?

you have a dungeon heart, usual interface, and a staircase somewhere on the map, with a tab somewhere, added onto the list of panels, that brings you to an above-ground view, still the same as underground, but instead of the dirt, there are trees, which you can cut down, and your imps can still claim path, but looks different than the dirt paths underground.

By Earwig on 07.02.2008 17:50 IP: -.-.-.-
I can think of a pretty quick way to overcome the overground/underground issue- cliff faces. There's a game I play called Dwarf Fortress (if you've never seen it, and have a lot of time on your hands to learn it, definitely look into it), where your game starts by digging into a cliff face. There's the outside away from the cliffs as well, and you can explore as far as you want in any direction, but the cliffs are Home. If expansion is your worry, then have it where they can continue to build underground away from the cliffs, or like shay had said, 3D maps where you had several floors- you could spread out from your initial caves. That way you have a functioning "building" above ground in the caves, with rooms just like the other races.

Which brings me to the Elders- make it so they REQUIRE trees to build, literally twisting the trees out of the way in much the same way the Imps carve out the dirt. Several levels of trees are possible that way too, to make separate "floors".

As for the Heroes... well. Buildings, I guess. They're the ones getting invaded by the enemy, they're the ones on the defensive... so it feels right that they'd have to build instead of destroy (clearing out dirt) to have a haven.

By Mutt (hellhound.net, UK) on 02.02.2008 21:43 IP: -.-.-.-
Hmm, I can't really see how going overground wouldn't have killed it stone dead. The inversion in DK1 of *digging* for space was sheer genius. I have to say this concept does seem to be ditching a lot of the things that made DK great and moving towards a cookie-cutter historickal RTS sort of thing. (I mean, building castles, controlling peasants? 'Realistic' worlds? The nonsensicality of it was one of the things that made I and II such a joy.) Having said that, I certainly would have bought it and played the merry hell out of it!

By flamewolf on 25.01.2008 05:42 IP: -.-.-.-
Just what everyone else said: DK is the greatest, DK2 even better. Nothing compares even so many years after it came out. And here's a good idea: since the game is above ground now, keep the same dungeon style by making the player chop through forest squares instead of digging out earth; or even make it so the lair is underground, but you have to come out to invade the hero castles. And instead of the 3rd race being playable, make it so they are like wild creatures that both sides have to fight as neutrals.

By Ken on 14.01.2008 20:12 IP: -.-.-.-
I got dkII when it came out. many games have come and gone since, but i still play dungeon keeper 2 and introduce more people to it whenever i get the chance. killing this game was a crime.

By Pred on 08.01.2008 21:50 IP: -.-.-.-
I love DK1 and (going against the tide) love DK2 even more. I'm not an RTS fan, i gave up on them after the first Age of Empire, 'cause it just made me feel really bored and didn't appeal me at all, but DK stayed in my heart 'till today. I really enjoyed playing it, a lot.

I would love to see a DK3 come out as much as any fan, but...
If the game came out as stated above, it would all be ruined for me...
If it was to be more an RTS and less a DK, then I'm happy it didn't go through.

Please, make DK3, but make it good, make it unique. Don't make it to be just another one...

By Kevin on 03.01.2008 15:15 IP: -.-.-.-
I loved DK1 and DK2 they were truely innovative games, offered fun and engaging game play; something that today just isn't offered anymore. Just a few minutes ago I got done having a convosation with a friend on the fact that games are the same ol' cookie cuter game as the last one. No one is doing anything original anymore and games have turned into basically..."Lets rehash this old game, add new graphics twist the story and that's it" Same game play, same controls same interfaces to be blunt they suck.

the DK series offered something that I believe no other game offered, it was original, with a whimiscal twist and a great story, great graphics (for their time) and wonderful, easy to use and well thought out interfaces. I'm said to know that DK3 WAS cancled, even sadder to think that it may not be reopened. Black and White was a bust, IMO, it was fun for a little bit, but it was Tomogachi mixed with a little RTS.

I hope that DK3 will be seen through, with the new technologies out today it could be made truely great. Stick with your concepts, don't try and change too much, what you had was awesome; just polish it a little more for the new era. My best wishes and hopes for a new DK game.


By Stodderen on 03.01.2008 11:09 IP: -.-.-.-
noo.. Reading this makes me alittle more happy, sinse I now atleast know why DK3 was canceled and what came instead. However being a hardcore fan of DK1 I cant help but feel the same as you mr. Adams.. I would have LOVED to play dk3! I hope that dk3 will become a reality one day..
best regards

Stodderen from Denmark

By kekkos on 27.12.2007 10:50 IP: -.-.-.-
I thought i was the only one who loved dk2......Now that i see you guys im glad again.
The keeper rules and is having fun...HAHAHAHA!!

By shay on 16.12.2007 18:49 IP: -.-.-.-
I think dungeon keeper was the best early game ever to be made before 2000

i agree with the comment that the limits to the series and play style is endless

if im honest, i think they should get rid of all the 'good to be bad' humour and cartoony genre, for me all the slutty mistress outfits and stupid cut scenes just ruined the atmosphere of actually building and maintaining a dungeon

with reference to the article, i think the idea of making it more RTS like age of empires makes me want to shoot myself, you have a niche style of play with DK that has potential to be a bloody gold mine, dont spoil it by making it another real time strategy, everyone is bored of those

also i believe taking dungeon keeper above ground also was a bad idea, the whole idea of carving out a dungeon underground, exactly how you would picture it, exploring the underground, making tunnels, traps and underground rivers etc, that is what made dungeon keeper what it was

i say keep DK3 underground, make the underground three dimensional, give tools in the UI to change views of subterranian dungeons, i imagine it would be harder for new players, but can you imagine having a dungeon that is 3D, with spiral staircases, your library and lair on one level, and your training room and hatchery on another

make it bloody and gory, and often disturbing to play, make it so that you actually feel yourself getting more evil as you torture, imprison and enslave, and the more evil you get, the more effective you are

my god i could go on all day, this needs to come back, i was looking in virgin the other day for a new pc game, and its just all rubbish, theres nothing we havent seen before, i really think this needs to come back

but it needs to stay away from RTS, DK1 was great because you controlled the level of...well...control of your monsters, macro management was dead easy, you could spend time devising guard posts that were strategically placed, or you could just whack a call to arms down and hope the enemy was dead before you were

finally, imps, for god sake dont get rid of imps

i could go on, for christ sake develop this game and develop it well, its the kind of thing that, if made bad, will just snowball to an early grave

but if it is made well, and a lot of time is spent on it, it will just rocket its way off the shelves

just keep it underground, please, its called dungeon keeper for a reason, not evil castle keeper

By Steve Moss on 08.12.2007 02:58 IP: -.-.-.-
Come on Bullfrog, lets get this show back on the road. There are so many people that want this game back in the development pipeline, me included! I loved all the Dungeon Keeper releases and simply can't wait to see this come to fruition. I can but hope and pray ;)

By DredLordZach on 07.12.2007 00:59 IP: -.-.-.-
I wish DK3 would be made. Black & White series is NOTHING like DK. And LOTR? Harry Potter!?!?! Please, that is pure rubbish. It makes me sick that such a beautiful concept is just dead now.

By anonymous on 28.11.2007 10:41 IP: -.-.-.-
one of my favorite things in dungeon keeper was all of it especially in the expansion were you have hose funny rymes

when heroes come to steal your treasure hunt and kill them at your leisure lol they never get old if DK3 ever does come back i hope creatures like the spider and the dragon comes back as well as the hell hound they were awesome

By windowskiller [admin] on 23.11.2007 10:25 IP: -.-.-.-
Online petitions don't work, because everyone can set them up and no one takes them serious. Let's face it, we will never see a DK3 from EA, and they will not allow anyone else to do it either.

By Dragon-eye on 23.11.2007 01:15 IP: -.-.-.-
Hello peoples.
I have started a petition about getting the DK3 Project restored.
If anyone is interested, sign here:

By Konstantin on 21.11.2007 21:12 IP: -.-.-.-
I think that is just a waste of a brilliant concept stopping this project. Just hope someone brings it back.

By Dark Imp on 20.11.2007 21:06 IP: -.-.-.-
I love DK2 and still play it now. If DK3 was to be started up again, I think all it need is more rooms, creatures and traps. Playing as the heroes would be cool (starting with them not just getting their portal as in DK2), add a new race that's great too! Making wepons and armor to up gread your minions. But don't change the concept, make it night or woodland so you have to chop down trees to get around. All in all there are meny gamers out there that loved DK and DK2 (we're still going on about it years on!!!!), and will miss Bullfrog. We are all very sad that there will never be a DK3.....but alway remember "it's good to be bad"

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