Level-less Gameplay and Player Stats

•November 16, 2010 • 8 Comments

In thinking about translating the creatures and heroes of the Legend of Drizzt series into a roguelike, the thought comes to mind that it won’t easily translate into a typical level based system of character progression.  Characters’ physical abilities are primarily determined by their race and age, while various skills may be honed to give the different characters and creatures an edge over others.  While there is variation among the races (Belwar seems to be a particularly sturdy svirfneblin, and Drizzt is more agile and aware than his fellow drow), you don’t see any particular creature or character standing out in strength too much above his or her peers.

Thus if I were to make a game based on this underworld, I think I would pursue a system of relative stats instead of absolute stats.  A player would have stats relative to members of their own race, and each race would have stats relative to other races.  When you’re a drow facing a hook horror, it’s really academic to wonder how many points of strength greater the creature is than the player… any single blow could crush your bone and send body parts flying.  You just need to be faster and have knowledge of the creature’s weaknesses.  When facing an illithid, one of the dreaded mind flayers at the top of the Underdark food chain, strength will avail you little while an element of surprise and a strong will are really what you need to survive a mental attack.

I think that players should still be able to boost their stats through use and perhaps lose others through disuse, but I don’t really see many players transcending their racial norms to be able to trade blow for blow with a basilisk, for example.  Statistics that seem to matter in the books are strength (how hard you can hit), agility (how fast you can move), constitution (how long you can run / fight), spirit (your devotion to principles and endurance in spite of opposition), intelligence (your aptitude to learn and grow in your skills), and charisma (your ability to lead others).  I’m sure I’m missing some that are present in the stories…

What really differentiates characters are their specialties, not necessarily their stats.  Drizzt was by all means a very intelligent drow and was destined to become a wizard of the Academy before Zaknafein intervened to make him a weapon master.  His intelligence honed his combat ability, putting his agility to better use and allowing him to gauge his constitution in the midst of a battle.  I’d like to see a game where you don’t necessarily reroll statistics to suit a particular character but where every statistic is meaningful in some way to every type of character.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I still would like players to specialize in a class, but I think your statistics should affect how well you play that class not which class you choose to play.

I think, too, that there should be a set of character traits that transcend specialties, statistics, and skills.  These are things that give different types of characters and creatures an edge in different situations.  The illithid are very communal and thus have an edge in open warfare (aside from the fact that they can incapacitate almost anyone from long range and then suck out their brains).  Drizzt has this hunter aspect that pops up to heighten his awareness and increase his ferocity and agility in combat.  Belwar is incredibly tough and can enchant his weapon-hands in combat.  Clacker’s rage makes him impervious to almost any pain.  Matron Malice is obviously guided by her ambition, allowing her to make great (if not foolhardy) sacrifices in pursuit of her goals.  Perhaps characters have to choose some particular trait that shapes their growth and goals.

I’ll have to think about this more… It’s all about providing a different game experience that remains true to the spirit of the books and doesn’t require mere leveling to be powerful.  To that end, I’d also like to see characters being blessed with some item, artifact, or piece of knowledge at the start of a game – Drizzt has his scimitars, Belwar his weapon-hands, Masoj his astral figurine, Matrons their deadly whips, and so on.

Brainstorming an Underdark Roguelike

•November 16, 2010 • 20 Comments

I’m not sure what planet I’ve been living on that has not heretofore involved R.A. Salvatore books in my hands, but that has recently been settled.  A friend loaned me the first seven Drizzt books, and I’ve been blown away.  I love them – I love the pace, the cultures, the various types of conflict, and all the fun creatures Drizzt and company encounter.

As I read through these, I can’t help but think they have the foundations of a very fun Roguelike.  I’ve been giving it a little bit of thought and will brainstorm more before actually calling it a project, but I would love to see a Roguelike that takes place in the Underdark as presented in Salvatore’s books.  Searching around, I found one Roguelike from 8 years ago that started out with this foundation and then departed.   I honestly can’t figure out why you’d ever need to depart from the story and setting.

So, here’s what I’m thinking…

  1. Start simple by only allowing Drow classes based on gender: Commoner, Rogue (nobles without a home), Weaponmaster, Wizard, and Priestess (the last three being noble classes). Noble females are physically and magically more intimidating, but males are given to different types of training and so gain advantages in hunting, combat technique, and survival.  I don’t know enough about commoners so might have to make things up.  Expansion races can include svirfneblin, duergar, human, and other higher races that might wander the Underdark.
  2. Focus on the darkness.  I really like this aspect of Salvatore’s stories… he does some clever things with the pervading darkness.  I’d love to see infrared trails on the ground I could use to track enemies.  Light bombs could blind your adversaries, while orbs of darkness can render even infravision useless.  Light might also be a benefit, as with Belwar’s magically list brooch.
  3. Include all the fun critters… the giant rats, goblins, cave fishers, hook horrors, corbies, myconids, basilisks, illithids, and more.  There is plenty of fodder in here for dual wielding drow weaponmasters imbued with the spirit of the hunter. 😀
  4. Keep the major cities, though they don’t necessarily need to be static.  Allow the player to wander around Menzoberranzan, train in the Academy, head out into the randomized cave areas to seek refuge in Blingdenstone.
  5. Tell a story upon death of a player’s origins, major feats, and ignominious end.  To that end, I’d like to see some quests baked into the gameplay so the player would have opportunities to lead raids (slaughtering elves, anyone?), battle wizards in their magical towers, rescue mining svirfneblin (or conquer their earth elementals), attain high priestess status and summon yochlol to fight, etc.  I’m obviously wanting to see a game where a player could actually live out a story like Drizzt’s, but I wouldn’t be opposed to someone choosing the darker path and seeking their house’s supremacy.

Will post more ideas as they come, but I’m interested to know if anyone else has given this some thought.  I haven’t played any roguelikes focusing on darkness, although I’ve played some that deal with stealth.  Anyone know of similar projects?

Dance of Death is a Roguelike to watch!

•November 1, 2010 • 1 Comment

I just spent a little bit of time with the ARRP release v0.6.136 of Dance of Death by Nolithius and am thoroughly impressed.  I’ve had Ebyan’s site bookmarked for a while but forgot about keeping up with his progress until I revisited the site to play through his 4DRL project, Chronophase.

Both of Ebyan’s games are somewhat unique as Flash Roguelikes with good ol’ ASCII interfaces and traditional controls.  Chronophase is a simple little space shooter Roguelike and is fun to play but presents little challenge.  Dance of Death, however, is a much deeper and more satisfying experience… imagine that, more depth in a long term project than a 4DRL.  😉

I highly recommend you give Dance of Death a try and follow its development closely.  It already has an epic feel and a satisfying level of difficulty that is sure to keep me coming back for more.  The game drops you in the middle of nowhere with no memories except a quest to go dungeon diving in pursuit of some unknown quarry.  Where it goes from there remains to be seen, as the game ended after I escaped the first dungeon.

What’s unique or interesting about Dance of Death?

Dance of Death: Character Creation

The character creation lets you customize your character without feeling cumbersome, including a few different races, 8 attributes, and a categorical list of skills to boost.

Dance of Death: Gameplay Screen

Gameplay itself plays out in a large Flash window with three panels: a main play area with a large ASCII map, a character stats summary, and a message area that shows combat messages, journal notes, inventory, and more.

Dance of Death: World Map

You start somewhere on a large island with the goal of finding a dungeon entrance in the highest peak of the mountains.  Ebyan has blogged about the world map generation routine, a worthy read for developers and Roguelike enthusiasts.  All the maps I’ve seen look quite nice, and the ASCII map for each tile on the world map is adjusted to match the terrain on the world map.  Ultimately you’ll travel through the mountains and find the dungeon entrance to descend in search of your prey.

As you wander around and enter combat, you’ll inevitably take a fair amount of damage.  At its present state, there’s no magic to speak of, so spend your points buffing your HP / stamina/ sustenance.  HP does not automatically regenerate until you eat some food (one of the many monster corpses – don’t pass them up!) that will refill your stamina and “revitalize” you, causing you to regenerate HP for an amount of turns determined by the type of corpse you ate (I believe).

The controls are also simple; press H when you get in for the full listing.  I found it quite easy to play with my left hand in its natural typing position and my right hand on the numpad.  Most everything should be in reach with the exception of the map key, but you really only need to refer to that to find out which direction to head to find the cave.

Ebyan has plans to increase the amount of content along with new features in future releases in his comments on the latest version’s release post, leaving me looking forward to seeing what comes next. 🙂

Let’s Build a Roguelike – by Rick Clark

•July 24, 2010 • 2 Comments

This thread at the FreeBasic forums managed to elude my watchful eye, as I don’t often open the Beginners forum.  However, Rick Clark (rdc), the champion of FB Roguelikes, has managed to build an impressive online tutorial walking through the creation of a Roguelike game.  I’ll be reading through his posts and can commend what I’ve seen thus far to you:

http://www.freebasic.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=15821

Quickie post: Brogue 1.3 is amazing!

•July 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

I don’t have time to post updated screenshots or gameplay notes, but the recent release of Brogue 1.3 is phenomenal.  If you haven’t played it before, it’s now fully cross-platform and is even better than the last time I reviewed it.  There’s new terrain, monsters, leveling, visual effects, and much more.  Check out the release notes in the forum (never knew that was there : ) and then download and get to playin’.

I’ve also found a stellar RL for the iPhone called 100 Rogues that I look forward to reviewing in full.  It’s the first RL that I’ve actually found enjoyable to play on the device, even though both the original Rogue and Nethack have decent ports to the system.  I’ll say why in a review down the road…

7DRL 2010 Reviews (pt. 1)

•March 18, 2010 • 2 Comments

So, this year’s 7 Day Roguelike competition has come and gone, and we’re all left playing through the dozens of awesome entries.  I’ve played several of them and have plenty more to go.  I’ll start to post reviews with links to the appropriate r.g.r.d threads of those I’ve played so others can get in on the action! 🙂

RULER by Slashie (Cross-platform, Java)

Fighting the Volga in RULER.

I’ll start with one of my favorites.  RULER is an empire building Roguelike with randomly generated worlds containing various terrain and resource types and inhabited by the uncivilized tribes of various peoples.  Your goal is to start settlements, recruit soldiers and construction units, and duke it out with your neighbors as you advance your civilization.  Combat takes place between armies, so you always have one unit leading the attack against an enemy.  I don’t know much more about it other than I never seem to lose a fight, but it’s a cool concept in which your point unit is the one doing the combat and leveling up while your reserve units are just there in case of loss.

This game succeeds in playability and entertainment.  The music strikes an appropriate mood, and I enjoyed watching my settlements grow over time.  The fact that this was made in 7 days shows in various minor bugs that might impede gameplay but are more likely to give you an unfair advantage (i.e. building settlements without any settlers in your army).  Still, it’s a great proof of concept that could easily become my favorite RL from Slashie with a little more polish.  For those that are familiar, I found this one much easier to get into than his Expedition.

Verdict: Very impressive for both its scope and its accessibility.  Play it a few times and encourage Slashie to give it more love in the coming months. 😀

Math: The Roguelike (Requires Megazeux, a cross-platform game engine)

Duking it out with a Numbergoblin on level 2 of Math: The Roguelike.

This game is impressive both as a technical achievement and a novel gameplay idea.  In Math: The Roguelike, your equipment are various bits of pseudo-code you combine to write powerful attack and healing routines.  The various items are scattered around simple, randomly generated dungeons that are populated with a single monster whose strength increases the further you descend.  With the right combination of items, you can quickly dominate your foes.

This game is an impressive technical achievement because of its platform… It was developed as a Megazeux game!  Holy cow!  I programmed little MZX games over a decade ago with my friends and never imagined someone could achieve this level of complexity in the platform.  The gameplay controls are simple, the dungeon generation is good, and the UI is actually quite attractive and useful.

Verdict: Excellent game good for at least one solid play.  Afterward, shop around for other Megazeux titles on DigitalMZX.  There are quite a few solid games there.

Earl Spork (Cross-platform, Java)

Crushing a high-flying pea in Earl Spork.

Earl Spork is the only side-scrolling Roguelike I’ve seen in the competition thus far, and along with Slashie’s MegamanRL and Spelunky is one of the few that I’ve seen.  Gameplay is very simple and involves jumping over pits and onto various pieces of food to clear the level.  You can also attack by bumping into enemies, but landing on their heads is much more powerful.  It can be a little tricky with those high flying peas, though. 😉

The other gameplay element is glasses full of water that must be shot with fork tines before you can pass them.  Watch out for the water, though, as it will kill you.  You’ll want to reserve your tines to break glasses, as you have a limited amount and only seem to get more as you level up.

Verdict: Play it once to learn the game mechanics and again to try and beat it.  Not one of my favorites but a fun diversion nonetheless and a solid game for a 7 day competition.

7DRL 2010: Terraforma (pt. 3)

•March 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

Well, I’ve gotten as far as I’m really going to get this week.  I’ll be spending tomorrow making up for this evening on a term paper. 🙂 Still, I at least achieved a walk-around demo and worldmap generator, but there are plenty of things yet to be done.

Terraforma Walkaround Demo

Download the demo. (Windows .exe + FreeBasic source)

What the demo includes:

  • Walk around with the arrow keys / numpad (w/o Num Lock)
  • Collect minerals from magenta % (mineral deposits)
  • Deposit minerals into your Terrapack (the yellow &)
  • Watch the map unveil as the Terrapack levels up

It does not include a message handler, so the flavor text that shows up when you boot is all you’ll get.  Just watch the status bar on the left to see changes as you harvest minerals and deposit them at your Terrapack.

I’m happy with the variation I’m getting as the worldmap expands, but I’m definitely going to have to work on it a bit.  You’ll notice different tiles and colors (for visited sectors) are used depending on the elevation and humidity of the sector.  However, the randomization I’m using required me to limit the ranges used for different tiles to show any variation at all. 😛

Next on the docket, post-competition, is to clean up the code I’ve thrown together to get it to this demo state.  After that, I’ll work on changing the movement code a bit.  Right now it simply won’t do to add in monsters and their movement because of a bottleneck I created with a function that checks the tile the player is trying to move into.

I’m definitely open to ideas / feedback… I know this is pretty raw material, so no worries if nothing comes to mind. 😉