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Factorising 86856527

March 21st, 2013 Comments off

Michael Brough’s 86856527 is my favourite of this year’s bumper crop of 7DRLs.  Admittedly I’ve not yet played all that many of the insane 147 successful games, but Brough’s brilliant byte-sized roguelike sets the bar rather high, and is very worthy of some close analysis.  If you haven’t played it yet, go do so, or at least watch UberHunter’s insightful Let’s Play video.

86856527 follows on in certain style from Michael’s streamlined 2012 7DRL Zaga-33. Aesthetically it’s very similar, and it is similarly on a much smaller playing field than most roguelikes. Even smaller than Zaga-33 in fact, and yet it has a lot more content packed in. The density of content within the 6×6 grid space is far far higher than I’ve seen in any other roguelike. For all its big icons and graphical charm this is a very complex game that is unforgiving to any who will not look deeply into its mechanics and systems.

86856527

You can see it all, but you have to look

You have 4 resources – health, siphons, credits and energy. Health is lost in battle, siphons are gathered and then used to draw out credits/energy from the map and abilities from the wall, and energy/credits are used to fund the use of those abilities. The siphoning of abilities from the walls summons enemies, which can damage your health and against which abilities are primarily used to defeat. It’s all beautifully weaved together. Complexity through interrelation.

I’ve seen both 86856527 and Mosaic referred to as having a board game feel to them. The big reason for this I think is the way in which they use the board itself, with grid squares counting as a resource and being a major part of the game. I’ve said many times on Roguelike Radio that I feel the map is too static in most roguelikes, that there’s too little interaction with the environment, and this was a big thing for me in designing Mosaic. 86856527 takes a very different route but achieves much of the same end effect. You care about every square, you analyse every grid.

This is reinforced by the enemies, which each have distinct differences. Individually they are not very interesting, but when combined in groups they can be trickily complex to defeat without taking damage. Terrain matters a great deal in how you can move around and how the enemies will move turn to turn. There is that lovely chess-like feel of always thinking a few turns ahead, considering the optimal options at each stage, and positioning, terrain, abilities and resources all tie in to those considerations.

And then there’s the score. Beating the game isn’t too hard if you play very carefully. But once you’ve done that suddenly score becomes an intensely important issue. The points come in discrete blocks that you have to spend resources and risk attacks to attain. They are sirens calling out to you, tempting you with higher positions on your high score table, yet frequently drowning you in a sea of enemies beyond your ability to survive. Riding the line between maximising score and retaining survival is thrilling and compelling, and the cause of many a YASD. The ease of replay and shortness of play sessions combine with this to make a very addictive experience. There is always the one more game to play. You’ll definitely beat that high score this time…

So what design lessons are there to learn from 86856527? Resources tied to terrain, individual enemy types, removal of numbers and density of content are all important. They are perhaps nothing new though, especially in the field of board games. Rather the novelty comes from their interrelation, the tightness with which they are wound together to form a solid core. No one element makes the game, and it is their fusion into a cohesive whole that makes this title really stand out. This is the real design lesson from Brough’s latest offering, that every piece of your game must bind together so tightly that the individual pieces can no longer be seen on their own. No single factor can be distinguished or removed without collapsing the whole.

Indeed, 86856527 cannot be so simply factorised. It is just too prime…

FTL – Rogue in the Starlight

September 16th, 2012 3 comments

So FTL is out, and this is good because it’s a great example of a Kickstarter actually paying off and doing so quickly.  Will that trend continue…?  It’s also good because it’s a fantastic game. If you have any respect for your free time or sleep then do not buy it! (Little tip – grab the DRM free version on their site and they’ll send you a Steam key too!)

Now in the roguelike community the usual ugly question pops up… is it a roguelike? And the answer is both “Duh, of course”, and “duh, no way!” depending entirely on your perspective.

To me it’s a good game which shares a lot with roguelikes, and this is in many ways more interesting and worthy of analysis than just a very good traditional roguelike. Rather than caring what shape hole this particular peg should fit in I’d rather do some close analysis of its gameplay features in relation to roguelikes:

Permadeath. This is the biggie. There is no restoring from saves, and game over really means that. And importantly it doesn’t do this in an arcade or multiplayer style. It does permadeath the way roguelikes do permadeath, and the game is all the more tense, exciting, frustrating and exhilarating because of it. It immerses the player tremendously, makes them mourn every death and celebrate every close encounter. There are many many personal stories floating around right now of close shaves in FTL. A great way the game plays with this is giving you a “restart” option on the death screen, automatically putting you back with the same starting options – this is a feature more roguelikes should have.
Random content. It’s not particularly procedural, mostly being pure dice rolls, and there isn’t that element of exploring areas and interacting with the environment. It does have that unpredictability to it, but perhaps less so than a roguelike. Once you’re in battle there are no big surprises. It also has random loot drops and such, and these add a big element of luck to the game – too much in my opinion, but it does force you to think on your feet and react to what you find, a bit like in Brogue.
Time to think. It’s not turn-based, but you can pause at any point and issue commands when paused. This gives you the time to think and plan ahead, and it shares that big element with roguelikes in that the most tense moment is when there’s nothing happening on screen. These are the moments you’re sitting still, looking through all of your options and thinking through all the possible things that might be about to happen. The control of time adds a huge deal of tension to the game, whilst also letting you tactically plan your game. This is a thinking game, not a reaction game. Without the integrated control during pause FTL would be a lot less enjoyable. I just wish it had an auto-pause feature :/
You are the ship. In roguelikes you are generally the adventurer, and the procedural content, field of view and permadeath all wrap together to really put you in the seat of your character. In FTL you have several crew members, but these are not *you*. You play as the ship ultimately, with your crew being interchangeable, and the lose condition is through losing all of your crew or losing all your hull. Your inventory is the ship’s hold. Upgrades are to the ship, improving and tweaking and expanding your abilities. The crew are just a form of resource, like magic points to be spent on the necessary abilities. In this game the ship is the rogue, with the depths of space taking the role of the dungeons of mystery.
Resource management. There are several resource types to juggle in FTL, but the most important is scrap, a generic resource that can be turned into almost anything. The really interesting way FTL plays with this is making the currency of the game also the experience points. Scrap is needed to repair damage, buy new missiles, but also to upgrade shields, fit new parts and hire extra crew. How you allocate this resource plays hugely into your success in the game. It would be interesting to see more roguelikes toy with this idea. However FTL does have problems with this – if you don’t get to the stage of efficiently winning battles early on you’ll quickly get stuck behind the power curve as you spend more on repairs/replenishment than upgrades. It’s debatable if this shows that a separated xp and resource pool is best, or if the design just needs a little tweaking.
Hunger clock. In FTL the rebel fleet is constantly advancing, pushing you forward. It’s perhaps a bit of a crude implementation of Rogue’s hunger system, but it does the job of keeping a constant sense of threat whilst also keeping you on the move. The ghost in Spelunky fills an analogous role. The way FTL does this is a bit like causing the dungeon in roguelikes to slowly collapse, reducing your available moves and forcing you to the secure area around the stairs. Now who else thinks that would be a very cool game feature to have? :)
Simple representation. There is no ASCII mode, alas, but all the icons used are immensely simple. Pretty, but primarily functional. You’re never left wondering what is what. This is just good game design of course, but it’s a very important tenet of roguelikes. The space in which crew move is also grid-based, and in combat especially this becomes important. There are grid-related tactics that arise not dissimilar to some roguelike tactics.
Many solutions. Overpower their shields with burst lasers, or use missiles to bypass them? Asphyxiate the enemy by blowing out their oxygen, or teleport some crew over to attack face to face? Use crew to put out the fire, or open the air locks to the vacuum of space? Use a drone to protect against their missiles, or an ion cannon to lock down their weapons systems in advance? The game has multiple solutions to many problems, and just like that thought of “should I use the healing potion now, or the wand of fire?” FTL will have you thinking and inventing new tactics all the time. There is real emergent gameplay here, with ambiguous decision making. And when you make the wrong choice and die it really drives you back into hitting that “Restart” button again. Sleep can wait… ;)

I’m not really sure what my point here is, other than to analyse the mechanics for what should inspire other roguelikes. Obviously a lot of the game is left out here, like the condition-based dialogue choices, the unlocks, plus the polish stuff like nice graphics and cool music that really make it a sellable game. But the big thing is its integration of features – how it takes these traditional roguelike elements, puts its own spin on them, and still keeps them working together to make a constructive and compelling experience.

Awesome game, far too addictive, don’t buy it ;)

ADOM Crowdfund gets $8k in one day

July 3rd, 2012 Comments off

Thomas Biskup has started up a crowd-funding campaign on IndieGoGo to resurrect ADOM and bring it back into development, modernising the game, fixing bugs, adding new content, etc.  The goal is $48k, objectionably high many say, but in the campaign’s first 24 hours donators have given a cool sixth of that total.  It’s not clear if Thomas will pull in the other $40k needed, but this is certainly a good start.

Interestingly a big chunk of the money donated so far has been from a select few – 10 people have bought the $250 “Lord” perk, which as a bonus includes a random snippet of the ADOM source in a framed certificate!  I must admit, I couldn’t resist going for this lovely collector’s item myself…  But for the campaign to really be successful it likely needs more than a few die-hard fans like me – most campaigns are won by selling high volumes of low-level tiers, which this one has yet to achieve.  One thing that may influence matters is the word of Notch – the Minecraft creator, known for professing his love of ADOM in a splash message on his game, has tweeted to his followers to donate, and this has been retweeted by 62 others.  Could this draw the masses in?

Hard to say what will happen, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on this  :)  ADOM is the game that got me into roguelikes, the work that inspired my first roguelike Gruesome, a game I’ve put an immense amount of fun time into over the years, and a game in which I still hold the highest ever non-archmage points score  :P  When the new version comes out I’ll be sure to nab that top spot again  ;)

For those interested, he’s also asking on the ADOM Blog for screenshots or videos from the game and volunteers for interviews.  Get in touch with him via his blog or Facebook if you want to help out.

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Cardinal Quest free for one day

October 2nd, 2011 Comments off

Ido Yehieli is making Cardinal Quest available for free… but just for today. Details are here:

http://twitter.com/#!/tametick/status/120485642504372226

(or if you want a shortcut, visit http://t.co/ipXZGxYK and enter code BXZQ00097)

Cardinal Quest is a commercial indie roguelike by developer Ido Yehieli, with a very unique focus on interface and style. I helped review it on Roguelike Radio a few weeks back, and it’s definitely a game worth playing, so this is a great opportunity for those who haven’t tried it yet.

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My 7DRL Highlights

March 29th, 2011 Comments off

Of the 46 successful 7DRLs this year I have played and reviewed 39 for the committee, which is due to publish its results soon. There are a few duds but a lot of very successful games, and some real gems in there too. Here are some of the ones that I feel are definitely worth checking out from this year, in alphabetical order:

benhem’s ssh game – I wish it had a name… but this is a funky first-person 3D-esque dungeon crawler entirely rendered in ASCII, and hosted on an ssh server. Gameplay is nothing special, but the presentation really is – check it out now!
Defender of the Deep – Play an orc, kobold or goblin and fight against the pathetic “good” races. Has a lot of variety to play and fun items and abilities.
Destiny of Heroes – A very pretty game with a nice assortment of dungeon generators (is it only roguelike devs that get turned on by these…?)
Devil Might Laugh – Start as a ghost and gradually become more corporeal as you ascend through hell. Interesting to see a real change in gameplay over time like this.
EmoSquid – 3D game world represented in 2D slices, and with full 3D control. It takes a while to get used to, but it’s very funky.
GnomeSquad – Get the post-7DRL version to fix the dungeon depth, and enjoy X-COM style gameplay with some cool classes.
God of Change – Very entertaining game where the monsters get completely new abilities over time. Procedural fun in all its glory.
Inversion of Control – Play a pet and try to guide your heroic master, with the options to give orders and mind swap now and then. Excellent AI on the master makes this very enjoyable, and post-7DRL version has some nice tiles.
kusemono – An assassination game where you must sneak close to an enemy before doing a final dash to slit its throat. Cruelly punishing, but fun nonetheless.
Magicko – Combine elements to create special spell effects. Could be fleshed out a lot more, but it’s cool for what it is.
Monster Slayer Show – Slaughter enemies in front of crowds to gain glorious ratings. Has some very snazzy weapons. My best score so far is 766.
Pitman Krumb – Nice 3D graphics and solid roguelike gameplay – a very rare combination!
Rook – A short game where it’s impossible to move into a position of death, meaning the only failure is checkmate. A very unique cross of chess and roguelike rules with pretty use of simple ASCII.
Stygia – Simple dungeon crawler with a Frozen Depths-esque heat mechanic and a nice variety of weapons and armour.
The Man in the Mirror – A very polished story-based game, where you control a man breaking out of an insane asylum. Mirrors are the central theme, with alternative views of the world helping to set the atmosphere perfectly.
Twelve Hours – Defend a town from hordes of undead alongside other heroes. Some decent AI and an enjoyable game.
Vicious Orcs – As ever Jeff Lait does not fail to impress with this quest to kill some very evil orcs. Ultimately it’s a dungeon crawler done really well, with especial emphasis on making melee combat fun without having to add extra commands. Cool mechanics like portals back to town and a special role for gold also serve to spice up the game. Overall my favourite game this year.

Some might consider Broken Bottle to be good too, but far be it for me to say ;)

I did not manage to get the following games working, in spite of much effort: A Little Anxious When It’s Dark, Anauroch, Geiger-AD42, Monster Enthraller, Storming the Ship. If these are amazing titles then all the more shameful. I also haven’t had a chance to try out Rogue: The Cardlike, but I’ve heard it’s quite good.

You can find a full list of all successful entries with links to them at RogueTemple.

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