Thursday, November 11, 2010

@Play 76: A first rule of roguelike design

@Play 76

When you die in a roguelike, is it your fault? Not always. This column offers the beginning of a framework for determining whether it is or not, by thinking about the game in a way analogous to checkmate in chess. The move that puts you into a situation in which you might die is the bad one.

At the end of the column I mention the possibility that one might formulate a set of laws of roguelike game design. I've so far come up with six of these. They'll be covered in more detail next time.

Posts are still fairly slow. I fell away from gaming for a bit back there, and am working on a new game project at the moment, and I have a final paper to finish, and other things are conspiring against me and my free time too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

@Play 75: And now, more Dungeon Crawl

@Play 75

Getting us back onto our usual beat, this month-half's column concerns the extra game mode packed into recent versions of Crawl, Dungeon Sprint. It features mostly set, human-constructed levels, and features even tougher opponents than is usual for Dungeon Crawl, but in exchange has 27x greater experience gain. Not only is it a much shorter game than Crawl, but it's great for figuring out strategies that work against advanced opponents without having to risk throwing away a six-hour game just to experiment with tactics to use against, say, demon summoners. Give it a shot!

Monday, September 20, 2010

@Play 74: The last time I swear

@Play 74

The second of the two posts about Mayflight is up on GameSetWatch.  I hope it hasn't seemed as obnoxiously self-promotional to you guys as it has to me.  Additionally, this one is more about implementation algorithms and my wanting to document them somewhere for possible later use than anything else.

I spent three and a half months working on the thing, to the exclusion of almost everything else, and I don't think it's really good enough for all the effort I put into it.  That is the great difficulty with the indie gaming sphere: you can work and work and work on something and still have it end up only so-so.

Next time, I absolutely swear, @Play will cover something else.  I'm gearing up to write about Dungeon Crawl's new alternate play mode, Dungeon Sprint, which is suitably infuriating.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

@Play 73: Mayflight again

@Play #73, on my own randomly-generated game, Mayflight

Yeah, @Play is back, but it's about the game I've already introduced, which is relevant to roguelikes in both inspiration and implementation detail.  In this column I cover the inspiration part of it; in the next, I talk about how it was implemented, which may provide an algorithm or two of interest to roguelike developers.  After that we'll be back on the usual beat, so if you're annoyed with all this talk about platformers and such you don't have much longer to wait!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I've Been Working On: Mayflight

My secret project, a procedural exploratory game for YoYoGames' summer competition, is ready to show the world.  It is called Mayflight.  It's kind of relevant here because I used some roguelike design principles in its making, especially in creating its huge game world and your character's ability set.  (I can't post it on Metafilter Projects yet because it's been too soon since my post of my most recent Gamasutra article.  I seem to be using Projects rather a lot lately....)

It's sort of like a Metroidvania in some ways.  It is a platformer, and you explore a big mappable space looking for powerups and fighting monsters.  However, it has no end.  The game world is randomly created every game, and has no edges.  Exploring out several areas, bring up the map and zooming out, then seeing the trail of blue rooms extending off-screen is kind of fascinating.

Also, the powerup/map dynamic isn't the Russian nesting doll setup of ever-increasing exploration spheres made available by finding new equipment.  Instead your character, Aurora the fairy, is weak in ability at the start, but becomes stronger generally in various areas by finding powerups.

Because there's no end to the world, and the powerups increase ability rather than grant new ones, the point of the game changes.  There is a time limit, and the idea is to go as far as you can during it.  Although it starts at only ten seconds, you can extend it continually by finding "sparks," which are scattered around with the ubiquity of Mario's coins.  The game is played for high score.  The two scores provided are raw distance from the starting location upon death, and a more traditional score that generally measures playing ability and accomplishment.

Playing it, it seems to have a nice balance to me.  The monsters are challenging without being overwhelming (at least not until you have had a chance to power up), the constant need to extend your lifespan means there is little downtime, and it's challenging while possible to survive for more than an hour with good play.  I was even able to squeeze a couple of covert pinball references into the game's interface.  I'm particularly proud of the background generator, which is able to produce a wide variety of interesting dynamically-generated looks for areas for relatively little processor time.  I post some of the more interesting screens here.

Anyway, now that Mayflight has seen a public release I can focus more on @Play.  The next column or two will probably discuss the game as an example of roguelile design principles applied to a very non-roguelike kind of game.  Then we'll probably get back to the usual beat.  In particular, Dungeon Crawl has seen a lot of development effort lately, having jumped another whole version number in the past two months!

More screens from Mayflight:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Game Design Essentials: 20 Non-Computer Games

I already posted this to MeFi Projects, but it's relevant here I suppose, especially since one of the reasons @Play hasn't had a column for a couple of months is because I was working on this:

Game Design Essentials: 20 Non-Computer Games

There are certainly many more board games, card games, roleplaying games and others that I could do sequel article, and have been lightly planning one.  Agricola and Acquire would probably be on the list because they're excellent and I have easy access to them, Dipomacy would be on the list because it's the most requested game in the comments to the first list, beyond that I'm still deciding.

Hopefully there'll be another @Play before DragonCon, maybe two.  Watch this space.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where is @Play these days?

The column was wholly absent for the month of June, for which I am sorry. I've been hyper-engaged with a personal game development that I hope to be able to show the world soon. This isn't entirely separate from the column; while it's not a roguelike, it does involve random content generation and a couple of other design aspects of those games, although they aren't the ones that people usually think of.

I hope to get a new column to you guys soon, and I'll be sure to post about it here when the game is better prepared to meet the withering gaze of strangers....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

@Play 72: Review of Chocobo's Dungeon for Wii

@Play #72:

This is one of the most scathing things I've ever written. I played through seven or eight dungeons of this game in preparation for this article, and read through a FAQ on GameFAQs besides. I did not complete the game, which would have taken many hours and eroded my sanity even further.

The paragraphs on moogles are, if I say so myself, some quality, heartfelt bile.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

@Play 71: What randomization has to offer games

@Play #71

Hello blog. I can talk to you right?

I'm fairly unhappy with this column. A part of me considers some of it fairly nonsensical. I believe it all and stand by the idea, but to express what is a strongly-held belief like it were fact, I don't think that is what @Play should be.

I'm talking, specifically, about the games-as-art section, which seems to me like a version of one of my Metafilter comments. This is part of why it took over a month for this installment to go up. It was hard to write, and I even started over once, but after I had written so much of it it became something I had to go with just to finally be rid of it.

It's possible that people will accept it, maybe even like it, but I don't think I like it myself. I will say this however: it does I think explain why I can't bear to play many "modern" computer games. They are wed strongly to their storytelling, and more and more the kinds of stories they wish to tell make me nauseous.

Next time I should be able to field another review. Those are rather good topics at least. See you then.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

@Play 70: Interview with Roudain Joubert, creator of Desktop Dungeons

@Play #70

Roudain is a lot of fun to talk to, and about as much of a Dungeon Crawl fan as I am.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

@Play 69: Review of Shiren the Wanderer for the Wii

@Play 69

The Wii entry in the Shiren series is a game I really wanted to like, but ultimately it tries to hedge its bets too much with lame JRPG-isms. There were times when I was actually shouting at the screen for the cutscene to end. And we're not talking about cinematic Final Fantasy cutscenes, we're talking about those in which 3D models move artificially around their little stage and have an obnoxious little drama. In 2D it was possible to get away with this, but in 3D it hasn't aged well.

Some of the awesome gameplay from past entries in the series is back, but most reports say that the game doesn't really pick up until you've finished the main quest. 24 hours of play time into it, and I'm still not there.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

@Play 68: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup Travel Functions

@Play 68

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup's autoexplore function is a bit shocking, at first glance, to witness, but is really useful for getting through one of Crawl's huge levels fast and making sure you don't miss anything. Well, anything not behind a secret door or in a disconnected part of the level. This article is a little shorter than usual, but still pretty long relative to most of the other things on GameSetWatch.

This is the last Crawlapalooza article, but probably not the last we'll be seeing on Crawl, not by a long shot. The next article will probably be on Shiren Wii, which I'l still playing though. Most people who have played it say that the bonus dungeons in this one are particularly fun, so I feel giving this game a fair shake means getting through all the story dungeons first, which are taking rather some time to complete.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shiren for Wii Initial Impressions

I'm going to save a full review for the @Play article but so far after three and a half hours....

It's rather easy. I completed the trainer dungeon and the first four "real" dungeons and have yet to die. Maybe I'm playing extra carefully because I'm used to the SNES and DS games, but I have had relatively little difficulty so far. My ally got knocked down to 2 hit points in a boss fight once, but I had plenty of healing herbs by that point. And Recovery Staves, which heal for about 30 damage, are extremely common in the early game, although they have the drawback that you can't use one on yourself, you must hit an ally with it.

Hopefully the challenge will kick in soon, but the whole reason I gave up on Pokemon Rescue Team was that it was dreadfully boring in the early game. At least I know that building up a character isn't required up to this point; I have entered no dungeon more than the first time I entered it, and I haven't used the grind "portal" dungeon for item enhancement at all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Atlus, Shiren and roguelikes

Please excuse a small editorial here, but I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet 'bout this....

People on the internetz, in prime internetz fashion, have been saying that Atlus has claimed that Shiren the Wanderer on Wii is not a roguelike. Atlus has not actually said this. The quote from Kotaku is:

"We're not referring to it like a roguelike because a lot of people have a negative association with the term," Aram Jabbari explains. "They are seen as extremely punishing. We don't want people to think of this game as falling into a certain category and then dismissing it."

Choosing not to call something a thing is not the same as saying it's not, guys.

But on the other hand, Atlus is dropping the ball on this one. All of the people who are interested in Shiren the Wanderer are so because of its roguelike characteristics. Everyone who buys the game expecting something like Final Fantasy is going to be disappointed.

The people who are excited about the game, its guaranteed audience, are so BECAUSE it's punishing, and a lot of fun for being so. This is exactly the same kind of ad campaign that got Sega a lacklustre response to their DS release of the original game. This kind of bait-and-switch is the epitome of short-sighted marketing.

I don't think I am speaking incorrectly when I say that roguelikes are on their way up in the world. They have a large amount amount of "indie cred," and their star is still rising. I'm not saying that they will challenge the likes of Grand Theft Auto, but I do think their popularity is growing.

If I were in charge of the Shiren ad campaign, I would not shy away from calling it a roguelike. But what I would refrain from calling it is a role-playing game! It is forgotten that a lot of people in the U.S. still have a negative association with that term, probably more than have a negative association with the word "roguelike," which is still kind of niche really. They may even have good reason to dislike CRPGs: the primary exemplar of the genre remains a kind of excessively anime-influenced trash fantasy quest game in which grinding is common and expected.

What roguelikes are, more than a straight role-playing game, is a turn-based tactics game with a single player unit. If people were to look at roguelikes in those term, I think, they would be a lot more accepting of both their difficulty (tactical wargamers are more accepting of challenge) and permadeath (since it is more obviously cheating to restore back to the middle of a battle). If Nintendo can continue to afford to localize the Fire Emblem games, which are still fairly obscure in the U.S., I don't see how Atlus can go wrong with Shiren if it's presented in a similar light.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shiren the Wanderer for Wii is out!

It is, and I have ordered my copy off of Amazon. I'm planning to write a review of this as an extra @Play this month, so keep an eye out for it!

@Play 67: Crawlapalooza Part 3, on interesting race/class combinations

@Play 67

The newest @Play describes interesting gameplay concerning five specific race/class Dungeon Crawl combinations: Spriggan Enchanter, Deep Dwarf Paladin, Hill Orc Priest of Beogh, Human Wanderer and Minotaur Chaos Knight of Xom. Each is of varying suitability for play. Although some are easier than others, each has some aspect to their abilities that makes playing them a special experience. Last time I said that the more interesting race/class sets were almost like playing a custom-made roguelike to themselves. This column could be seen as evidence backing up that statement.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

@Play soon....

The next column is scheduled to go up early Thursday morning. It looks at a number of specific Race/Class combinations in Dungeon Crawl, each of which plays differently from the others.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

@PLAY 66: Crawlapalooza Part 2, on Skills

The 66th @Play column covered every skill in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup 0.5.2, and listed applications for each. It can be found at

In the comments, a Crawl dev team member noted that the Divinations spell will go obsolete soon. I note in the column text that Darts is also going away soon. Another commenters noted how the "WowDeath" account at managed to end three consecutive games in 2007, all on the same day and at experience level 1, from damage done by kicking a wand of wishing; they used a since-fixed Nethack random number generation exploit to ensure finding one of those extremely rare wands on the first dungeon level each game. It just shows what I've always suspected: roguelike gamers are hardcore.


Several times now I've gotten requests for a feed of just my @Play columns at GameSetWatch. I like GSW a lot, and the people who run it even more, but I can understand that some people might not be interested in some of their other articles. So I will be posting links to each column I write for GSW and Gamasutra here as it goes up. This includes the roguelike column @Play, the general game design column Pixel Journeys, the collection articles Game Design Essentials, and anything else I do for them and, maybe in the future, for other sites.

In summary: if you just want my stuff from GameSetWatch, subscribe to this blog's feed and all should be well. If you just want one of my columns I might make separate feeds available later, but I have to remember to make these posts as it is, there is no mechanism in place to update them automatically, so the more blogs of this type I make the more unwieldly it all gets. So, I dunno. We'll see.