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!)


7DRL Complete: FireTail

March 16th, 2015 Comments off
FireTail gameplay

The fire spirit facing off against the Queen of Ice

In FireTail you play the last spirit of fire, battling against unending legions of ice, and ultimately against the dreaded Queen of Ice. You can download for Windows, Mac and Linux through

And wow, what a week! It started with recovering from an ear operation, and on Friday my computer decided to explode. I managed to break the T-Engine in new and interesting ways, but thankfully the angelic DarkGod came to the rescue and sorted out my weird bugs. What’s been a big highlight this year is getting such a polished looking game, in no small part thanks to the wonderful work on Oryx, providing me with custom tiles for the enemies and terrain.

Some interesting features of the game:

  • You leave a trail of fire as you walk. The number of neighbouring fire tiles determines what powers you enact.
  • You have free movement on fire squares, making the fire tail of important tactical advantage.
  • Progression is based on the fire tail – when you level up you assign skills to the lengths of the tail, changing what skills are triggered when you’re surrounded by x fire tiles. The higher the number the more effective the skill, but the harder it is to get into a position to use them.
  • You die if you get surrounded in ice terrain or ice enemies. Positioning and freedom of movement is vital in combat.
  • 7 levels, 6 interesting bosses, and a bunch of enemies all with their own powers.

I’ll do a video showing off some bits of the game when I get a chance. For now please download, enjoy, and give feedback!

7DRL Start: FireTail

March 9th, 2015 Comments off
Firetail bird

This is a Firetail bird. It has absolutely nothing to do with my game.

The 2015 Seven Day Roguelike Challenge has begun! I have started work on another T-Engine game, called FireTail. This draws a bit from the mechanics of DataQueen, with a few novel ideas thrown into the mix. A big aim for me this year is to have the game mechanics be a little more approachable. Many people struggled last year with the way DataQueen used several new mechanics all at once, making it hard to adjust to the gameplay. Also a lot of people never bothered reading the instructions, which is sadly how people approach gaming these days. I hope FireTail will have the mechanics be more intuitive/obvious to those without the ability to read.

FireTail is (or will be) a game about a fire spirit in a world that is slowly freezing. The levels will be filled with advancing glaciers and ice-themed enemies. As with DataQueen you have no hit points – instead you die if you become encased in ice. A big part of the game will be the firetail – the spirit leaves a trail of fire as she walks, and these give her free movement and extra ability options. Tactical use of the firetail will be central to the game.

Hopefully this will be both playable and fun :) Good luck to everyone else taking part!

Procedural Generation Jam – 8-17 November

September 23rd, 2014 Comments off

A new game jam is on the horizon, the Procedural Generation Jam:

Many people are using this as an excuse to make a 7DRL. But you can make any sort of procedural game you want on the week, or concentrate your time on some procedural tools instead. I’ll be making a roguelike where procedural generation is part of the mechanics of play! Hopefully it’ll also be fun.

To kick off the ProcJam there will be a day of talks in London from developers who use procedural generation. This will include Mark Johnson of Ultima Ratio Regum, Tanya X Short of Shattered Planet, Hazel McKendrick of No Man’s Sky and me! I’ll be giving a talk about how to include the player in the procedural generation, which is something I’ve tried to do with a lot of my games. You can get free tickets to the event or watch remotely via the livestream.

I’ll be hosting an episode of Roguelike Radio in the coming weeks with a few of the speakers, talking about the purpose of the jam and why procedural generation is so cool :)


Live on One Life Left

June 25th, 2014 Comments off

On Monday I was interviewed live on London-based radio show One Life Left about roguelikes. You can catch up with the podcast version here:

I only had a small interview segment on the show, but hopefully I did the genre some justice. I must admit I struggled a little to answer their search for a proper definition of roguelikes since I don’t really believe in strict definitions! Got Hoplite plugged at least :)

I also talked about my short stories tying in with Elite as part of Tales from the Frontier, just released. This is alongside my writing credits for Tales of Maj’Eyal and ongoing work for Jupiter Hell. I seem to like writing for games with procedural content ;) I’m always looking for new writing opportunities so if you have any leads let me know!


DataQueen – 7DRL Success

March 23rd, 2014 6 comments
DataQueen screenshot

Destroy the gridbugs, protect the data!

Last week I completed DataQueen, my 4th successful 7DRL. It’s a hex-based roguelike with a number of unique mechanics that makes it very tight and tactical without ever feeling too overwhelming. The feedback I’ve received has been immensely positive, so I may work on polishing this more (and have had the generous offer of someone drawing a tileset for the game). You can download the game here:

[Edit: Note there’s currently a little bug when you first run it that might make the game hang. If you restart the bug disappears forever. Yes, I’m confused too…]

The big concept I wanted to try in the game was from the board game Hive, where you only die if you get surrounded. This seemed like a cool idea to port to roguelikes! So enemies can’t attack you directly, and movement is very important.

DataQueen combat screenshot

You can set up several attacks to trigger at once.

At the same time you have a wheel of special abilities called the “hex wheel”. For each hex direction you move in you have a special attack that hits in that direction. You can gain new hexes and place them on the wheel as the game progresses. This gives a range of tactical options all tied to just the movement keys. Every turn the wheel spins, meaning you have to plan moves and positioning if you want to chain attacks together. The abilities have all been designed to combine in interesting ways, encouraging the player to make multi-turn attacks.

Movement itself is made more interesting by giving you free movement on green grids. This lets you reposition yourself for different attack directions very easily. Moving onto blue grids converts them to to green, but enemies will do the opposite, quickly eating up your useful tactical space. This cuts across all the mechanics in the game and adds a lot of tactical depth. To progress you need to connect pink grids up with green grids, so the war with enemies is mostly one of terrain (and not dying).

DataQueen upgrades screenshot

Upgrades! The UI artwork was done by daftigod.

The base enemies all have unique abilities which can challenge the player. Most enemies die in one hit, but they can be a huge problem in mass numbers. Each level there is a boss, and each of these requires special tactics to overcome. It makes for a challenging game that hopefully never feels unfair.

I’ll be doing a developer Let’s Play video of it soon, talking about some of the design choices and how the game operates. For now you can hear me discuss the game a bit on the latest episode of Roguelike Radio, alongside discussion of lots of other cool 7DRLs! Let me know if you have any comments about the game, and anything you’d like to see changed – feedback is hugely appreciated.

7DRL Incoming: 8th to 16th March

February 24th, 2014 2 comments

It’s now less than 2 weeks to the start of the 2014 Seven Day Roguelike Challenge! This my personal highlight of the year, and I can’t bloody wait for it to start :D

This year I’ve set up mailing list for people wanting to subscribe to updates about the process. This is for developers, players, media, whoever. Just enter your e-mail address if you want to be kept up to date this year and in future years.

Also, Unity have repeated their offer of 1 month trials of Unity Pro for 7DRL entrants. E-mail me if you want a code!

As for my own plans… I’m hoping to make a complex game with a hacking theme (868-HACK being a big inspiration). You move on a hex grid, with “connected” nodes being easier to travel around, and connections are created by your movements. Enemies destroy connections and hinder your movements. You die if you get surrounded by enemies – so it’s a no HP game, with movement being key. Building on Mosaic a little bit, but I’m hoping it’ll be more tactical. Bumping into enemies will trigger special attacks against them, but which attack type is triggered depends on the direction of attack, following a “hex wheel” of assigned powers. The hex wheel rotates each turn, so you can’t keep spamming the same attack in one direction.

My biggest challenge is coming up with interesting enemies and bosses, and maybe some sort of progression system. Also a good name… Hexhack? Hacktics? I’ll think something up…

Ooh, and in other roguelike-y news be sure to register for IRDC! The International Roguelike Developers Conference is in Berlin again this year, from 9 – 11 May, hosted by the distinguished Ido Yehieli.


November 30th, 2013 4 comments

I don’t like doing blatant self-promotion much, but I guess I have to do it sometimes, and right now I have a few important things on.

Firstly, Tales of Maj’Eyal is about to be released on Steam! I’ve campaigned for this for a very long time, and it is such a joy for this to finally be happening. ToME, with all its modern features, fits on Steam perfectly. Of course it will still be free and open source, but having the donator’s version on Steam will hugely help in pulling more people into hardcore roguelikes. None of this twitchy light stuff – ToME will get people into properly fiendish turn-based tactical gameplay! And of course with about a novel worth of story in the game written by me :) If you want to help promote the game (and roguelikes in general) please vote for it as Indie of the Year!

Secondly, the T-Engine modules contest has just opened. My own roguelike Mosaic is up there, and there are other fun roguelikes to try out and rate. I’d be awfully pleased if you could head over there and give some honest ratings on the games you’ve tried.

Thirdly, I’ve written a novella called The Comet’s Trail to fit in with the new release of Elite: Dangerous. It will be published in an anthology of stories alongside the game in March. Our publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing, is currently running a Kickstarter to make professional audiobook versions of several Elite books. For just £1 you get a random Elite novella, an anthology of 25 fantasy/sci-fi short stories, and some weird video updates that I’ll soon be starring in. If you’re feeling generous there are some greater rewards at higher pledge levels. £5 will guarantee you the collection I’m in, along with various extras!

In other news a cool new roguelike-focused contest has opened – the Trials of Oryx. Make a roguelike using Oryx’s excellent Ultimate Roguelike Tileset (now 50% off) and you could win a cash prize! Or just have the joy of making a cool game :)

The year is coming to an end, and it’s been quite a busy one for me, and 2014 promises many exciting new things! On the Roguelike Radio front expect a couple of treats for classic roguelikers within the next couple of weeks – episodes on ASCII and Nethack :D