7DRL start: Wait For It

March 3rd, 2019 Comments off

Hmm, I’m really bad at updating this blog… Two years ago I started Wall of Souls, which I failed to complete. Last year I made a successful 7DRL called Time To Die, which I never announced on here. Time To Die was a time travel themed roguelike, where you could pause and rewind time at will as you travelled through different epochs trying to destroy different temporal anomalies. It was a really cool game in many ways, and just my cup of tea in terms of gameplay, but for many others the mechanics were very obtuse and the game was hard to play.

So, onto the 7DRL Challenge 2019! This year I will have far less time than normal due to the arrival of my first child (a gorgeous girl called Scarlett, recently turned 6 months old). So to keep things simple I’ll be trying to reuse as much as possible. I’ll be taking some of the assets and thematic content from Time To Die, but repackaging it into something simpler and hopefully more intuitive to play.

Wait For It will have the same cyber theme as Time To Die, this time letting you control a hacker trying to overthrow the evil Church of the Holy C. All player powers will be charged by waiting on the spot, meaning you need to be very aware of positioning and timing to survive. That’s the plan anyway! We’ll see how that plays out in the next 7 days.

Best of luck to everyone else participating :)


7DRL start: A Wall Of Souls

March 5th, 2017 2 comments

My favourite week of the year is back :) This year I’m making a game that in many ways is similar to last year’s The Trapped Heart. ‘A Wall of Souls’ is about a lone knight trying to free his Queen from some nefarious force (exact plot still being worked out). The knight will have a number of “soul shields” following him, and being cut off from the shields equals death. Enemies will have ‘soul points’ that look similar to the shields from The Trapped Heart, but this time the way to kill enemies is to surround their soul points – ie. position yourself, your shields and walls to cover up those sides of the enemy. An enemy with 6 shields needs to be fully surrounded.

That’s the vague plan of the game. In addition the shields themselves will have mechanics and abilities attached to them, and there are more to collect over the course of the game. And a bit of meta-gaming I’m playing with is that every time you die you leave a statue of yourself, which can help restrict the environment in future games.

This will be the first game in which I play with a hunger clock – over the course of the game you will gradually get slower, so that what were once easy enemies are suddenly going faster than you.

How well this all works I’ll have to find out. And how well I can explain this to the player will also be a challenge…

Best of luck to everyone taking part! I look forward to all the cool and innovative new roguelikes I’ll get to play in a week’s time :D

Jupiter Hell, successor to Doom the Roguelike, now on Kickstarter

November 15th, 2016 1 comment

Kornel Kisielewicz, developer of Doom the Roguelike, has just released a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the development of Jupiter Hell. And whilst Jupiter Hell is the successor to DoomRL in many ways, it’s immediately obvious that it promises to be so much more:

3D graphics in a roguelike? A *turn-based* roguelike? And with it an original metal soundtrack and vocals from Mark Meer, who performed the voice of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. This is going much much further than a simple “DoomRL 2″…

Now I should make evident I have a vested interest here. I am very proud to be part of the development team for the game, as Designer and Lead Writer. So I’d quite like to see this succeed! But beyond that I think this game offers a special opportunity – a chance for roguelikes to reach further than they have before.

For many years now we’ve seen roguelites (Spelunky, FTL, etc) do well with a more mainstream audience, whilst the traditional core of the genre still remains very niche. Dungeonmans and ToME are doing better than most, but still have limited impact. I refuse to believe the gameplay is at fault here. Gameplay is precisely what makes roguelikes great! Ultimately it comes down to presentation, and having the right visuals and interface to entice a wider audience in.

Some say roguelikes are too difficult for normal players, but then I see the success of Dark Souls and the new X-COM games (including Ironman Mode having high popularity!) There is a clear audience for games that provide challenge and depth. Jupiter Hell could be the game to finally bridge the gap to the rest of the gaming world. This could be the game I introduce to friends who’ve never managed to get into ADOM or Brogue, but who I know could come to love roguelikes.

And though it has these appeals to a wider audience, Jupiter Hell is still very much a hardcore roguelike. It’s turn-based, with an adaptive animation system so you never have to wait between keypresses. It even has an ASCII mode! This is something new and old players can fully appreciate.

28 days to go! Help us make this happen :)


Roguelike events 2016

July 24th, 2016 Comments off

2016 is turning out to be a busy year for roguelike events! Make sure to check out if any are nearby, and get along to them if you can. Roguelike events are awesome!

First is the US IRDC (International Roguelike Developers Conference). This year it’s being held at the renowned NYU Game Center, in Brooklyn, New York, on 6-7 August. Kawa is doing the arrangements, and you can find lots of useful links and details on the US-IRDC 2016 wiki page. IRDC are wonderful affairs where everyone is encouraged to present on their work or on a discussion area that interests them. There’s always lots of interesting chatter amongst the vibrant and dedicated community.

Second is the Roguelike Celebration event, held in San Francisco on 17th September. This is a one-off, one-day event with a super-impressive list of speakers and attendees, including all the makers of Rogue and many major modern roguelike developers. Don’t miss out on this if you’re a big roguelike fan!

Lastly is the European IRDC, which is being hosted in Sofia, Bulgaria. Dates are still being decided, but late November looks likely. There’s a wiki page with details, and a vote for dates form that also lets you subscribe for updates.

I can’t make either of the US events, alas (for cost reasons, and because I’m quite time-starved coming up to my wedding). I will likely be at the Bulgaria IRDC though, if I don’t forget my passport (as happened at a previous IRDC). We’ll also have Roguelike Radio recordings from all events, hopefully.

Want to hold an event yourself? All you need is the willingness to do some organisation and a decent space you can use (usually universities or hackspaces).


The Trapped Heart 1.1 released (with inevitable bugfixes)

March 24th, 2016 Comments off

Well 7DRLs and bugs seem to inevitably go together… The Trapped Heart is no exception, though in this case there was only really one significant bug affecting level generation. Unfortunately it was pretty serious, preventing connectivity in some levels. Thankfully it is now fixed!

Based on some initial feedback I’ve also updated some descriptions in the game and tried to make some of the mechanics a little clearer (making the chain lightning attacks act more simply in the process). I’ve added more feedback and descriptions for the player through hover-over details on the player character and tips on death based on how you played! I’ve also tried to decrease the system load for the shield effects on critters.

Download for Win/OSX/Linux through itch.io:

One thing that has become clear watching videos of people playing the game is that I vastly underestimate the difficulty of my games :P People are dying repeatedly to the first boss, which to me is a complete doddle to beat. Of course that’s because I know the mechanics inside out… I held myself back at numerous points in development from making things more challenging, and now I see that I should have been making things easier! Or clearer at least, which I have now done.

Full change list for v1.1:

* New: Dungeon name announced on entry
* New: Particle effect to show when slowed
* New: Tooltip on player to show current abilities and status
* New: Pause upon death to make death situation clearer
* New: Tips on death based on gameplay
* Bugfix: All levels now assured to be connected
* Bugfix: Various typos and poor descriptions corrected
* Gameplay: Changed arcing to attack a wider range of targets
* Gameplay: Changed earthquake to be more symmetrical
* Gameplay: Tweaked Bro-Knight summons
* UI: Changed text colours to be more readable
* UI: Updated help text to make clearer
* UI: Changed descriptions of air magic to be more consistent
* UI: Changed shield appearance to be more symmetrical
* UI: Tweaked title screen image
* Performance: Reduce particle count on shields


7DRL Success: The Trapped Heart

March 14th, 2016 Comments off

Released! The Trapped Heart is a hex-based roguelike where enemies have directional shields. You need to arrange attacks from the right directions to do damage. Download from itch.io (ignore the price request):

I didn’t get all I wanted done this week, and the artist I had on board didn’t manage to make any enemy sprites (hence my shoddy artwork in the game). But I had a lot of fun designing the mechanics and interesting enemies and bosses to fit with the mechanics.

The Trapped Heart gameplay

The big piece missing is the story, which is there in parts but lacks the detail I was after. In particular the game doesn’t achieve my objective of having an Undertale-inspired multi-layered story that plays out across numerous runs. Oh well, here are some more pictures:

The Trapped Heart roguelike gameplay

Fighting a giant slug in the swamp

The Trapped Heart

Some cave critters

Knights of Undying Friendship

The Knights of Undying Friendship! Alas, without the many dialogue permutations I had hoped to include

7DRL Start: The Trapped Heart

March 4th, 2016 Comments off

Woohoo, the Seven Day Roguelike Challenge is here again!

I’m not starting just yet, but I will be soon… I discussed my ideas for this a little on a recent 7DRL episode of Roguelike Radio. I’ve been quite inspired by an indie RPG that came out last year called Undertale, which does a lot of fun things with metagame information, showing different dialogue on replays and so on. This is a really interesting new space to explore, and as much as people balk at how far Rogue Legacy takes meta-gaming I think we should be doing a lot more to experiment with mechanics like these.

My game this year is called The Trapped Heart. It’ll be 1HP death, hex-based and with some interesting new combat mechanics. So not much different from the last couple of years for me ;) I hope it’ll be fun, but I hope also to have an interesting story built up across multiple plays.

An artist called Oleg has agreed to work with me this year, so hopefully it’ll look amazing too! I’ll be posting updates on Twitter and 7drl.org.

Watch the Skies 3 megagame – the Wimpey Fergusson after-report

July 25th, 2015 Comments off
Watch the Skies 3 preparation

The masses gather!

Today I took part in a day-long 300+ person megagame in London, called Watch the Skies 3, with teams playing various nations, alien factions, whales and even the Vatican. It was bizarre and crazy and unforgettable! During the course of play aliens kidnapped many civilians, many countries reached the verge of nuclear war, the whales found out how to get to space, Israel tried to follow them and a mysterious group called The Others remained a complete mystery (to me, anyway).

I played as PR Director for Wimpey Fergusson, a weapons and technology company. Our remit was to make profit and I was determined to both sell and make our company well-known. Unfortunately I was not prepared in the least for how chaotic and fast-paced the game would be, and all of my pre-planning was for naught when the game got underway.

Margot, CEO of Wimpey Fergusson

Margot stepped up incredibly well into the CEO’s shoes, somehow keeping operations together through the darkness and chaos!

Out first crisis at Wimpey Fergusson was the lack of a CEO – the player booked in for the role was off ill, meaning we were down to just 3 people. The Deputy CEO rose to the task, but it meant we were immediately understaffed for the tasks before us. None of the three of us had played the game before, and we quickly discovered we hadn’t a clue what was going on.

We set about selling and building and trying to make deals, but the division of tasks wasn’t easy and we were seriously overwhelmed. By the end of turn 2 (of 10) I felt shattered, and could have sword half the day must have gone past. But we persevered, and Control (the rules people) gave us some tips on what we were doing wrong. Tips that we were in serious of need of!

Going forward we managed to set up more alliances, particularly with African nations. Rising corporation tax in South Africa made us look for a good place to relocate, and we nearly landed a great deal with the USA, but they didn’t like our exclusivity demands. Thankfully I managed to arrange with France to get a zero tax deal, with research sharing, an exclusivity arrangement and the rights to build a manufacturing plant there. The French President was most generous in this I must say, and looked very handsome in his beret!

But the real fun came later on when we realised our agents were sitting around unused and they could be put to much more use. I managed to convince various nations to buy our covert services, sometimes not bothering to actually send agents out as I realised I could just feed them false information. Yay! Turkey wanted to assassinate the Iranian Ayatollah, but Control told me we couldn’t kill a player. Which is strange, because a few turns later they let us do exactly that… Our CEO organised a coup in Venezuala, where the Venezualan President had been feeding his citizens and military to the aliens. Probably our greatest achievement in the game.

Watch the Skies 3 - crowds of players

The many nations! Including whales at the front and aliens staring ominously from the balcony above.

As the rounds went on the profit cycle continued. It became very hard for us to really compete with other corporations because we had no research arm, and our attempts at funding and sharing research from others brought in almost nothing. I spent a lot of time trying to butter up officials from every country, but with little effect. We snagged a little more money, I arranged for us to help with infrastructure building to unite Korea, and we did our best to sound good to our shareholders. Turkey paid for an agent to uncover the perpetrators of a dam explosion, but I just pocketed the money and made up an answer after speaking to a couple of nearby countries. Profit!

The game ended at some point, I’m not sure what really happened, but we came second-last in the corporation rankings. Overall I felt we did well to survive in a tough global market, especially being a player down and without a research division.

As PR Director I think I did a poor job. A Twitter account I put a lot of effort into making went almost untouched during the day (though I had an enjoyable spat with rivals LexCorp the previous evening). We never got into the news, and our shareholders criticised us for this. I think maybe this was down to the lack of people on the team – I had to spend so much time running around chasing deals that PR was at the back of my mind.

Wimpey Fergusson business card

I take some solace in the many remarks of “best business card”! I left a bunch in the men’s room as an attempt at bathroom diplomacy… Though no one asked me what my DPhil was in and I had a whole backstory planned for that :(

It’s hard not to feel a little negative about some aspects of the game. The game design bit of my head wants to deconstruct things and find ways to improve elements. As a corporation we felt very disconnected from the world, utterly unaware of the fish-people and kidnapping and all sorts that I found out about later. The Global News Network neglected to include us in their distribution, so we missed out on a lot of global happenings. In general the advance rules brief explained the background of the game well, but not the physicality of the mechanics like “get this from Control”. Control in particular were hard to get hold of, often with long queues to speak to them and rounds ending before ever getting a chance to arrange details. At the end of the game we were still completely in the dark about how to upgrade our aircraft, what science was needed, etc – I felt like what little time we had couldn’t be spent asking questions.

At the same time it’s hard to be critical of a game that offers such a unique experience. I don’t think a game of this scale can ever be done “perfectly”, and the overwhelming chaos is part of the game. Still, if anything were to be improved I’d hope the designers can look at getting more Control people on board and making the pre-instructions clearer as to how to interact with Control. Also the risk of people dropping out / falling ill can badly impact small teams, so some consideration should be made for how to mitigate this.

I’m definitely keen to play this sort of game again, though I’d probably prefer to be in a more centrally involved team – a nation rather than a profit-chaser that doesn’t care what’s going on in the plot. I’ve already signed up for Watch the Skies 4, and The Washington Conference (a WW2-themed megagame). I’ve also been in touch with designer Jim Wallman about arranging a megagame for my bachelor party next year :) If anyone hasn’t tried this sort of thing before I strongly encourage it! Nothing quite beats the brain-numbing overload that sets in as you realise you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing :P

Ooh, and as a bonus there was someone there who said they listened to Roguelike Radio! Awesome :D

Edit: Other after-action reports: Reddit thread, Megagame Facebook group, Whales report, Angolan report. The photos give a sense of the scale, the video a sense of the chaos, and the news some elements of the evolving narrative.


All My Games, Finally Beaten

July 25th, 2015 Comments off

I recently bought a copy of Cogmind, a cool new roguelike about building a robot, without realising the developer had already given me a free key. So, deciding I should give my new spare key away I thought I should give it to someone dedicated to roguelikes – someone who cares enough to play a hard game and achieve something notable. And in thinking about this I realised… I have four games which have never been beaten! FireTail, DataQueen, UNSTOPPABLE and Toby the Trapper – and the latter two are five years old. So I issued a challenge on Reddit – whoever shall beat one of these games first shall earn the key! A true roguelike quest :)

What ensued was a mad and beautiful dash by many roguelike players to be first to beat one of these games. Quickly they stumbled as they came to realise that there was a reason these games were not yet completed. The reason being I can be really bad at balance sometimes, and being a roguelike expert and a particular expert at my own games I often design the “enjoyable difficulty” for me to be way beyond the average player. Now the roguelike challengers entering this fateful quest were to find out that the prize would be bought through blood… In truth I wasn’t sure they were all beatable at all.

But with surprising speed one /u/zxc223 completed DataQueen, and with it identified a few exploits and bugs. I was impressed! He won his key and I’ll put a reference to him in a future game.

After that I wanted the fun to continue, so I offered three more keys, one for each of the other games. The deaths continued :D After a day FireTail was beaten by /u/Othello, using some very fine tactics. Two days later /u/zazs did what I thought might be impossible – he beat UNSTOPPABLE. This was a 4DRL I wrote in 2010, and previously I hadn’t heard of anyone getting more than 20% through the game. His victory was incredibly well achieved! And after three more days Toby the Trapper was felled by the incredibly persistent /u/personman, fighting through many difficult fights, tedious levels, and some horrible bugs.

Thus, at last, were all my most difficult games laid to rest by four different roguelike masters. And furthermore they all identified new bugs, found exploits and gave great feedback on games I’d had little useful feedback on before! I guess and important lesson here is that if you make your game hard but give the players a real incentive then you’ll get people interested enough to go all the way. Especially in the roguelike community, where many of us are crazy persistent idiots :P

And here are all of their glorious victory screens:

DataQueen roguelike victory screen

FireTail roguelike victory screen

UNSTOPPABLE roguelike victory screen

Toby the Trapper victory screen


UK IRDC 2015 After-report!

July 1st, 2015 Comments off
At symbol made of dice

Many @s gathered in one place!

So IRDC just happened, hosted at the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham. Mark Johnson of Ultima Ratio Regum did the organising. You can find a couple of other reports on it by Mark and by Alan Charlesworth.

On the Friday a few of us met in a pub and had a long chat about roguelikes and gaming. As a sign of the times some wedding discussion also crept in (myself and 2 others are currently engaged). I imagine in a few years it will be about babies! We also had some interesting chat about how Youtube Let’s Plays affect roguelike exposure and sales, and how roguelikes in particular are good for Let’s Plays – both the audience and the LPer like having fresh content from a procedural system.

Mark Johnson at IRDC2015

Mark’s opening talk

On Saturday were the presentations. They were recorded and streamed, and hopefully they’ll be available soon! I’ve uploaded my slides on Alternative Death Systems, essentially saying we need to make the approach to death more obvious, interesting and dramatic, which the ubiquitous HP model often fails at. Particular highlights in the talks for me were AIs attempting to beat Spelunky, a peek at how DCSS generates levels and lots of detail of how Sir, You Are Being Hunted procedural generates environments that feel hand-crafted.

Roguelike developers in a pub in a cave

Roguelike devs in a pub! In a cave! With flails!

After the talks we went to a pub and then out for a curry (very British) before going to a pub that was in some caves beneath the castle, complete with halberds and flails on the walls. Many roguelike puns were made! Then there were debates about game pricing, early access, Steam refunds and other boring money-related stuff. Still, it was interesting to hear some passionate opinions on stuff outside of my domain. We also decided that we need a roguelike set in the caverns of Nottingham, and more roguelikes involving Sean Bean. We should also try to get Sean Bean to a future IRDC if we can :P

Roguelike posters

Mark had some cool posters made of popular RLs

The next day we were a thinned out crowd, sitting in a room with a bunch of laptops showing off various roguelikes. I brought some board games to keep us entertained, and gave Mark his first taste of modern board games – he was pretty quickly hooked, vowing to beat me at Hey, That’s My Fish (he didn’t). Some people wandered in to see the roguelike exhibition and quickly wandered out – overall the audience was much younger than expected and the games not so appropriate for them.

We recorded an episode of Roguelike Radio, mostly discussing the previous day’s talks. This should be available soon!

At the end of the day we went for pasta and a few of us ended up back at my hotel room playing more board games. Good fun :) I managed to do perhaps my best lying ever in as a spy in Resistance :D Alan was utterly hoodwinked…

Overall a great event! Mark did an excellent job arranging everything, and the venue were fantastic. It was also brilliant to see the likes of DarkGod and Ido again.

However it should be said that this hasn’t been the most successful of IRDCs in terms of attendance, and particular in terms of diversity of attendees. The vast majority there were English (many drawn through Mark’s academic connections), with only about four coming from abroad. Most of the European IRDC regulars didn’t attend. No women either. We did have one uni student attend, which is great, and he gave a presentation on his level generator made for his dissertation (very cool). We need more young people making roguelikes and getting into the dev scene :)

I think the location probably didn’t work in our favour for attracting more people – Nottingham seems a far and exotic place for anyone outside the UK. Contrast with the London event where many people made it part of a holiday, some with their families, or the accessibility and cheapness of Berlin. Something to consider for next year (there are rumours of Paris!)