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Column: At Play

COLUMN: @Play: Crawlapalooza, Part 4: Travel Functions & Play Aids

March 3, 2010 12:00 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. Check out previous columns for other entries in this series on breakout Roguelike variant Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.]

One thing new players to Crawl may find dismaying is the sheer size of the dungeon. Rogue, Nethack and ADOM have dungeon levels that fit on a single screen, but Crawl's maps are much larger, many more screens in size both vertically and horizontally. They aren't as large as Angband's, but Angband has transient levels anyway; once you leave a level, it is completely forgotten and cannot be returned to, so in a sense they are disposable.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup's levels are big enough that they pose challenges of information management for the player. And if a player has a good enough memory to handle them, or a pad and paper for writing things down, that works well, for a while at least. The game did little to help the player to keep track of it all for a while. In fact, the addition of the Travel Patch marks the root of the Crawl code fork that would become Stone Soup. (The Travel Patch and its role in Stone Soup's origins are detailed in a post at crawl.develz.org.)Since its introduction, Crawl has acquired an amazing array of automated play aids, far beyond the call of duty and unique in the roguelike world.

COLUMN: @Play: Crawlapalooza, Part 3: Beogh Liturgical School For Orcs

February 18, 2010 12:00 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

Following Part 1 and Part 2, we are continuing our discussion of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, the popular variant of Linley's Dungeon Crawl that has swept the roguelike world by storm.

One special feature of the game is that nearly every one of the game's many races can also play all of the classes in the game, and vice versa, and do so in a reasonably consistent way that exposes interesting gameplay options. Unlike other games, Dungeon Crawl has found a way to keep classes differentiated, requiring different play styles, even into the late game, without actually preventing classes from doing anything. It is possible for a fighter type to learn magic and vice versa, but is it wise to put in the effort in doing this? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

This column looks at some of the many interesting combinations of race and role in Crawl, and their available paths (or lack thereof) to success. The specific combinations looked at are: Spriggan Enchanter, Deep Dwarf Paladin, Hill Orc Priest, Human Wanderer and Minotaur Chaos Knight of Xom. (I'm sure some of you may have your own favorites, and I'm looking forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments for this one.)

COLUMN: @Play: Crawlapalooza Part 2: What's With All These Skills, Anyway?

February 4, 2010 12:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time, he continues a length series on roguelike Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup by examining its intriguing - but complex - skill-based gameplay system.]

In Part 1 of this article series, we examined the experience and skill advancement system of that rising star of roguelikedom, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. It’s a mixture of a straight-forward level gaining mechanism and a practice system that balances out the problems with characters doing something over and over just to gain skill by requiring he kill monsters to provide the fuel for advancement.

Like how Nethack, in many ways, is best experienced playing via telnet, with a community score list to place on and player ghosts to encounter, so is Crawl (although it tends to make Crawl games harder rather than easier, due to ghosts being so much more dangerous there). The two primary places you can play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup online is at crawl.akrasiac.org for the current stable version and crawl.develz.com for the current development version. Both versions are ASCII only, and Windows users will probably have to install PuTTY. Helpful instructions can be found on the akrasaic site.

(Warning: This is a full examination of all of Crawl's many skills. This article is quite lengthy!)

COLUMN: @Play: Crawlapalooza Part 1, Skills and Advancement

January 15, 2010 12:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

This is the beginning of a sequence of articles on the popular roguelike game Dungeon Crawl. We've covered it once before, but considering the game's importance and continued development we have not discussed it nearly as much as it deserves. Hopefully this and the next few articles will go some way towards remedying this tragic situation!

Of the five major roguelikes (Rogue, Nethack, Angband, ADOM and Dungeon Crawl), Crawl is both the most recent addition the list and the one undergoing, by far, the most intensive development. A favorite of the Goons over at Something Awful, it possesses a very strong design which is difficult to exploit, and provides tradeoffs and drawbacks for most important actions. In this it sticks closely to Rogue, and other than the original Hack it is probably the popular roguelike that best recognizes its forefather's great strengths.

These articles are written based on the as-of-this-writing most current stable version of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, 0.5.2. Much of the information herein was gleaned through perusal of the Dungeon Crawl Wiki at http://crawl.chaosforge.org/index.php?title=CrawlWiki, and the spoilers found at http://www.normalesup.org/~grasland/Crawl/. It should be noted that a new version is under development as v0.6.0, and that a development build of this version is available for download.

COLUMN: @Play: The Berlin Interpretation

December 18, 2009 12:00 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time - a look at definiting Roguelikes through 'The Berlin Interpretation'.]

Last time when covering Dungeon Hack, I noted that it doesn’t quite fit up to all of the most common definition of a roguelike. While it has random dungeons, hack-and-slash gameplay, and even items that must be identified, it is a first-person game.

And not even an Ultima Underworld kind of first-personness, but the same kind of discrete, right-angled rotation, corridor-centered perspective and step-based movement used in the Wizardry games, which were many years old by that point. And it was a real-time game, too!

For me, the game is obviously rougelike enough to be covered here, since we’re more concerned with what it is that makes roguelikes fun to play than adherance to a laundry list of similarities. But for those who are interested in such classification, we have the Berlin Interpretation.

Arrived at last year at the International Roguelike Development Conference, starting from a document over at Temple of the Roguelike, the Berlin Interpretation is a set of feature descriptions that fairly well encapsulates what a lot of people consider when they think of roguelikes. It covers both graphical and gameplay elements, and has the added advantage of not being posed as a mere checklist. They recognize that some games that are probably roguelike do not meet the exact description presented by the list, and so it is divided into High and Low value factors.

We’re going to take the game through several unusual cases we’ve covered in the past: ToeJam & Earl, Shiren the Wanderer (SNES version) and Dungeon Hack. We’ll also compare Nethack, Dungeon Crawl and Diablo to the list as controls. Let’s have a look!

The original text of the Berlin Interpretation can be found at RogueBasin.

COLUMN: @Play: Dreamforge's Dungeon Hack

November 25, 2009 12:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time around - a relatively unknown official D&D license in the genre is explored in-depth.]

Roguelike games have been around for a good while, and from the very start many of them have cribbed system rules out of the Dungeons & Dragons books. Many of Rogue's items (especially equipment) come from that game, and Nethack goes so far as to retain the idea that armor class counts down, possibly the last game still in development to retain this convention; D&D dropped that back in its third edition.

dhtitle.pngBut there is one roguelike, or close to it, that adheres to the Dungeons & Dragons rules out of necessity, because it is actually an official Second Edition AD&D computer game product! Dungeon Hack was created in 1993 by Dreamforge Intertainment, a company that developed several other official D&D games for TSR back in the days when SSI still held the license.

I mentioned way back in some of the earliest columns that Rogue's inspiration was likely the hack-and-slash play of old-school D&D mixed with the thinking (if not the actual geomorphs) behind the random dungeon generation tables in the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

Perhaps partly due to these roots, Dungeon Hack is actually a fairly good game. It's not nearly as complex as Nethack, but that fact works in the game's favor as much as argue against it. However, some superficial aspects of the game may cause one to conclude that it does not deserve to be called by the term "roguelike."

COLUMN: @Play: Item Design, Part 1: Potions and Scrolls

October 25, 2009 12:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time -- a look at the art of item design in Roguelikes.]

It has been a little while.... This column is an in-depth examination of some of the most popular items within the two most-common categories: potions and scrolls, both of which we might term "one use" items for the fact that utilizing them consumes them.

Exploring a monster-filled dungeon is not what we might consider a healthy activity. If the game were just about looking around, mapping territory, and killing monsters until the player's inevitable demise, the game might be interesting in an simplistic kind of way, but it wouldn't have that roguelike spark. No, the player must get something out of the exploration. That something is treasure.

Treasure is the carrot held in front of the player's face, leading him on into ever-more dangerous situations. The majority of treasure in most roguelikes is found laying around the dungeon. Some of the treasure is food, and the need to find more is what prevents the player from building levels indefinitely on the easier levels, but the good stuff is what pushes him downward. Unlike the trend in most RPGs these days, equipment is often a larger component of player power than experience level in roguelikes, and it is randomly generated.

Column: @Play: A Date With Asuka

August 28, 2009 12:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This month, impressions of the Japan-only Mystery Dungeon game Fushigi no Dungeon: Furai no Shiren Gaiden: Jokenji Asuka Kenzan!]

There are quite a few Mystery Dungeon games, but they can generally be divided into two categories, being the licensed ones, and the unlicensed ones. While there are more licensed games, and in fact the first game in the series starred Torneko/Taloon from Dragon Quest IV, the more interesting ones from a roguelike enthusiast's perspective are the unlicensed games, which for whatever reason tend to have more challenging gameplay, harder consequences for losing, and are just more fun in all ways.

asukatitle.JPGThe unlicensed Mystery Dungeon games are also called the Shiren games, after the starring character, a wanderer in a straw hat with a talking weasel named Kappa and a distinctive striped cape.

Off the top of my head, and I am open to correction on this,I believe there to be nine games in this series: one for the Super Famicom, two for the Gameboy, one starring a younger Shiren and Kappa for the N64 (which I like to call Jim Henson's Dungeon Babies), one for the Sega Dreamcast, one for Windows, one for the Wii, and two DS remakes, of the SNES and first Game Boy games.

Of them all, only one has been officially released in the U.S., the first DS remake. Atlus, I would think in order to make up for the lackluster Izuna games, plans on releasing the Wii version. Time will tell if they do their usual sterling localization job or decide the game needs "fixing" in some way.

But this is off the subject, which is the Dreamcast game. This is essentially a roguelike with 3D models for all the monsters. And some of the artwork is among the best seen in the series. Of course, our focus is more on the gameplay than the visuals, so I leave it to the screenshots (taken off an actual television!) to show off the look of the game. It actually doesn't star Shiren at all, but a young woman named Asuka. Despite being unable to read Japanese I've been playing this game for a couple of days, with the aid of the handful of item translation FAQs available on GameFAQs:

COLUMN: @Play: Q&A with Keith Burgun of iPhone Roguelike "100 Rogues"

August 5, 2009 8:00 AM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This month -- 100 Rogues is a promising commercial roguelike for the iPhone with an abundance of whimsical personality and unique gameplay, due for release in a couple of months. In this Q&A, I ask the game's lead designer Keith Burgun about the game and its inspirations.]

JH: First off, tell us about yourself, your company and your team.

KB: I'm Keith Burgun, lead designer at Dinofarm Games. We're a four man team consisting of myself, Jonathan Bryan (producer, programmer), Blake Reynolds (artist) and Wesley Paugh (programmer). Our publisher, Fusion Reactions, and its office are in Rochester, NY. Blake and I both live in Westchester however, so we end up making many long trips.

JH: Your project is called 100 Rogues (the Facebook page has a gameplay video, for those interested in seeing more). Would you like to tell us generally about the setting of your game?

KB: The setting is a mysterious, scary, yet silly dungeon. The mood or voice of the game can be best explained as "fantasy by guys who don't know fantasy, and who are pretty strange". I get a lot of inspiration from teaching children's art classes - some of the stuff kids come up with is just so outrageous and hilarious, and I would love to see a game with that kind of spirit. So we have a basic fantasy dungeon setting, with your standard fare: skeletons, ghosts, rats and the like.

But we also have a cowboy-ish looking Bandit, a flying baby with bat wings, and quite a few other oddities like that. Also, it's a class-based game, and we've been working hard to make sure that the classes all have not only their own style of play, but also a personality. Not enough personality in games these days, if you ask me.

Column: @Play: The Python Strikes! You Are Being Squeezed!

July 27, 2009 4:00 PM |

Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time - a discussion of using Python to make Roguelike games.]

So let's talk a bit about Roguelike development languages.

Traditionally, the One True Roguelike Language has been C. All of the current "major roguelikes," Nethack, Angband, ADOM and Dungeon Crawl, are either written in it or in C++. (Nethack makes use of bison and lex, and Angband used to use Lua for scripting.)

The genre's origins on Unix systems, its ties with the curses console library, its reliance on a console in general, and the fact that when the genre got started C was basically it as far as serious programming languages go, all these things combined to identify the genre somewhat strongly with C.

This is not as much the case now. As this year's 7DRL competition demonstrated, new roguelikes are now written in all kinds of languages, ranging from Java to MOS6510 assembly. A few were even written in Python, a language that has historically been regarded as more of a scripting language. I mean, scoff scoff, what business does a "real game" have being written in something like Python?