I’m preparing a talk for the Indie Games Expo in London 4th June on “Art in the @: Lessons from Roguelikes on Pure Artistic Gameplay”. It’s related to something I’ve discussed on rgrd in the past, and something I’m hoping to speak with Jeff Lait about on Roguelike Radio in the future. How does the pure gameplay deliver an artistic message? I’ve consciously put work into this in Broken Bottle and some other games, with the specific thought of conveying emotions like guilt and despair, but without wanting to give a direct message. However in preparing the presentation for next week and reflecting on my own works I’ve come to some startling realisations about common threads in all of my games, even ones I thought I had designed as pure games.
In every work I’ve made power has a cost, and is labelled as dangerous or outright evil. Most of them do not have simple bump to attack, the traditional “easy power” in roguelikes that you can use for free. In most of them you are weak and fragile, able to die very easily. And in most there is zero or minimal progression, though the world becomes harder. A breakdown:
- In Gruesome you are easily killed at any moment, and you can’t assault enemies directly.
- Toby the Trapper is about an exceptionally weak character, who again cannot attack directly. There are more powerful abilities later in the game, but they are hard to use and dangerous to yourself. The ultimate power found in the game is outright deadly, and if used will produce negative endings. A high kill count also tends to give more negative ending text.
- Unstoppable gives you ultimate power from the start, but with the caveat that this power will come back and destroy you.
- Broken Bottle gives a cost to melee attacks, with stronger weapons demanding more stamina to attack. Alcohol is empowering in the game, restoring stamina and a little health and letting you attack children, but the theme of the game makes it clear that this is a very negative thing indeed. Part of the mechanics of the game is to test whether the player will become “addicted” to this power cycle or will wilfully shun the alcohol.
- Run from the Shadow has you constantly on the run from an initially unassailable foe. All powers in the game are represented by negative icons (lies, denial, passing blame, etc) and the ending for achieving victory through power is meant to disturb.
- Harrowed makes you more powerful than the enemies, but with their superior numbers death is inevitable. There is no winning in the game. The idea was to give a feeling of a lion being brought down by wolves.
- sick peter makes you unable to attack and has you weaken as the game progresses. Even moving costs a resource, meaning there’s nothing powerful you can do. The game deliberately goes against the usual feel of WW2 games glorifying war, instead giving the real experience many people had at the time.
- Rogue Rage gives immense powers, but in short bursts, and the theme of the game portrays them negatively. The basic bump attack costs a resource.
Now it could just be that I like to make challenging games, and these features all fit with that, but it does so happen that I have strong feelings about power and its misuse. I’m very anti-war and anti nuclear weapons. I also believe that the gratification in violence in many games is a very negative thing. But I never realised until I sat back and reflected on my games that these feelings have made their way into the mechanics of all my games. With games like Toby the Trapper I never intended to have any artistic message, but I’ve ended up incorporating these reflections of myself without even realising it.
I wonder if other developers have this? When we make mechanics, are there subconscious parts of ourselves we put into our games? It’s an interesting thought…
Michał Bieliński has done a nice review of Toby the Trapper on Temple of the Roguelike. Seems to me that he’s gotten far further in the game than anyone other than its creator… Go read the article now!
A new version of Toby the Trapper is ready! Download it here:
Currently only includes the windows exec and source. If anyone on Linux or a Mac can compile it with FPC on those platforms and send it to me I’d be most grateful. [Edit: Have Linux exec included in package now.]
There are various changes, including speed optimisation, rebalancing, more enemies and a lot of little tweaks. Enjoy!
You can find it here:
Screenshots later – I’m mentally exhausted now :P
I have 42 hours remaining. Right now I need sleep, and tomorrow I have a job to attend too. Have scent-following working quite nicely, though the game did crash on me for no reason just now (and I don’t even know where to start looking for any bugs). Hopefully it’ll be okay and I can start work on the traps tomorrow. More from my devnotes:
Update 21:29: Got the ogres moving randomly and the whole turn and time
system as I'd like. Also got messages for bumping into enemies
(including some hints for bosses). I'm still unsure of how to get the
ogres to move in the right direction though. Needs some hard thought!
Update 00:47: Scent-tracker is working! Dear Christ that took a long
time... Ended up far more tricksy than I expected. Also not 100% sure
it's working as well as I want - need more testing, though I don't really
have the proper time. It seems to do what it needs to do, and so now
it's time for my chocolate reward :)
Also Trapper.pas now exceeds the source code length of Gruesome, which
was previously the longer piece of code I had written (1900 lines or so).
Still not a proper game though.
Have monsters added, though they’re quite immobile at the moment. Still, looking pretty good now – getting ever closer to it being a real game. Big test tomorrow will be movement and the path-finding by smell (which I’ve never done before). And of course getting the traps working properly, which are kinda the core of the game. Development logs I’ve been taking:
11th March 14:53: Right, time to start again, though I'm in work this
evening (7DRL is hard to fit in when you have 2 jobs!) Intend to get
basic enemies working. If I have enough time I can maybe even fit in
their scent-trcking system (which I really hope I've thought through
Update 16:17: I got message handling working 100%! It now splits lines
into separate words before looping them properly round the message bar
with [more] prompts. I couldn't get this problem out of my head from
before and just had to work on it... Took a lot of trial and error, with
a little bit of learning about uninitiated ansistrings in Pascal, but
good god I'm so happy to have that working now.
Update 17:21: All trap-laying code is in and working easily. Of course they
don't actually do anything yet, but it's nice to have the fuller player
interface worked out. All that remains is putting in monsters and
making them do things. I've now changed the numbering 0.1.0 to
signify my shift towards a real game. The 0.1 line will involve getting
ogres working. 0.2 and higher will signify getting bosses coded. It's
all very exciting :)
12th March 00:18: Back form my barshift, might do a little coding before
I hit the hay. Earlier I got creatures generated and randomly positioned
- even did the bosses since it was so simple. Need to give them
movement and interaction, in particular with traps. Also thought about
adding a hardcore difficulty setting where Toby moves twice as slow -
fairly trivial to add and could add fun.
Update 00:43: Hardcore mode added. Really was very simple. Must get to bed
now though... Hopefully will have a decent amount of time available at
Well, can’t say the game is half-finished, but in terms of real-time hours I’m around halfway through. However I anticipate having more time than I’ve had so far on Friday/Saturday/Sunday, so hopefully all will go well. Some notes I’ve been taking as I go along:
9th March 18:58: Well, gave up on that message handler at around 2am. I'm
sure if I had more time I could get it running, but it was too much for
my weary head and I don't have the time to sort it out properly. For
now I'll stick with the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple, Stupid) which
has always served me well.
Update 19:42: Got my very bsic message looper worker perfectly. I love it
when I think up an idea and then I find it works exactly as I had
planned... it's a rare event. Next step - test out digging. After that
I'll finally get some ogres on the loose.
10th March 01:27: Added diging and a bunch of other stuff. Got rather
sidetracked actually - added in the menu display for traps and the gems
to be collected to open up new trap types. Traps can't actually be laid
yet though, and more importantly there's no enemies to use them on. I
will have zero time for coding till Thursday, and not much time even
then, so I really hope I can get a lot of work done during the last hours
of the weekend. Implementing enemies may turn out to biting off more
than I can chew...
I have a working cave explorer thingummy going. I can’t get message handling working well, so I’m giving up on it. Next up is adding monsters, which will turn it into a proper game. In my lunch break at work I wrote the following background story:
Gadzooks! Wuggy the Warlock and his gang of ugly ogres have attacked the
tiny gnomish town of Turgylton and stolen the Gems of Power! Now it's up
to the town's hero Toby the Trapper to venture into the villain's
cavernous lair and retrieve the holy Gem of Life. But this is no easy
stroll down the mine - the ogres aren't just ugly, they're also big and
tough, able to squash little Toby with a single swipe! And deep
within the dark lair Wuggy the Warlock and his fiendish friends guard the
Gem of Life with foul sorceries and terrible powers!!
Still, it's not all doom and gloom. Toby is much faster than the big
brutes and can see better underground too (the dumb ogres can only sniff
their way around, and it's hard for them to smell anything above the
stench of their own ugly bodies!) He also still has some Gems of Power to
create traps to use against them, and may find more along the way. So do
you feel up to helping Toby fight these dastardly villains?! With
Flashers and Bangers and Boomers and Blinders and much more besides you'll
explore varied random dungeons filled with dread and excitement in your
quest to help Toby defeat the wicked warlock and save his tiny town! Let
the adventure begin!!!!!
For the curious you may also wish to see my development notes so far:
7th March 23:44: 0.0.1. Ported code from The Lion King and Gruesome.
Includes dungeon generation of a few cave types, LOS and moving
around. LOS should work out of the box, rest must be properly
tested and tweaked. Many worries.
Update 8th March 02:41: Got everything working after a lot of fiddling
and silly sleep-deprived errors. Need to make some code adjustment to
how the last level is generated, but otherwise extremely happy with
results. Also may wish to tweak some colour schemes, but that's not
immediately important. Next up is message management, wall-digging
and properly implementing enemies, none of which I've done thoroughly
before. How exciting...
8th March 20:31: No time to work on it today. Just spent a few minutes
tweaking the map generator so that the final level is more selective
about layouts that are too spartan. Thinking of adding something to
encourage loops in levels, but no need for it now... Will try and
find time to get stuck into the real mechanics of the game later.
I've now labelled it 0.0.2 - it's a stable cave explorer with different
level themes, essentially.
8th March 23:55: Gonna play a little with a message handler, but if I don't
get far then I'll just give up. It's not important enough to waste
much time on.
Anyway, on with the coding…
So, um, I’ve not been very attentive to my little creation of over a year ago – Gruesome has alas been without any development whatsoever, and my time-deprived lifestyle means that it’s likely to stay that way, alas. However it’s time for the 7 Day Roguelike competition again and I have what I think is a neat little idea to try out. Hopefully I’ll have more time to complete it than last year’s effort… but, well, I still have a busy week otherwise so my hopes aren’t too high.
My idea is called “Toby the Trapper”, about a little gnome who must fight some ugly ogres and a wacky warlock. Unable to harm the ogres he must rely on his superior speed and magical traps. Like Gruesome this is a one-hit-kill game with little stats and extreme emphasis on careful movement. With a bit of luck it’ll also be fun.
So, time for me to get dug in – see you in 7 days!