Mar 282013

Rather than just go over this week’s work (which was mainly systems and engine code, nothing glamorous) I wanted to talk about Consumables. Just for clarity, I’m referring to the typical array of items with limited uses that provide an interesting effect. Potions, wands, and scrolls are the most typical, but you could also count ammunition in there as well.

They’re a staple of the genre, everyone who can rub two dice together knows about potions of healing and scrolls of fireball. In roguelikes, they’re often mysterious at first. You find a potion, swirling with color, but you don’t know what it does. You can identify it with magic if you’re lucky, or you can just choke it down and hope for the best.

Over the last week I’ve been collecting opinons and having discussions with a number of roguelike fans and critics, a number of whom contributed to The Seven Day Roguelike Challenge held a couple of weeks back. What are some of the issues with consumables in games today?

The mysterious aspect is the number one feature. Potions can often be dangerous instead of helpful: sure maybe it’s a healing potion, maybe it’ll light you on fire from the inside. Unfortunately, they’re also necessary to stay alive in difficult situations. Using the right potion at the right time is a key part of surviving and winning. However, player’s attitudes towards this are mixed. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that early potions are going to be wasted if you are being safe.

Unopened booster packs from Spellfire: The Worlds Most Successful CCG.Antinumeric: “If they start off unidentified then the best thing to do is frequently unintuitive (find a safe spot and chug, pray you don’t get a good potion that youd want to use later) and they are more useful if the player memorises all the different possible potions so they don’t need to drink them all.”

100 HOGS AGREE: “I have never had fun identifying items in roguelikes. I have always found it to be a massive chore and I usually end up putting off identification for as long as I possibly can (usually this time is after I have died).”

On the other hand, it’s fun stumbling across old and forgotten treasures that contain unknown power. Finding that [?Mysterious Sword?] and seeing it become a Mighty Nightsteel Blade of Suffixes + 10 is a great feeling.

Dross: “I love identifying tons of items at once, it scratches the same itch that opening sealed product in Magic does.”

doctorfrog: “Item ID is a weird thing that is both a pain, but also a somewhat enjoyable strategy puzzle that I don’t think you can take out of a good roguelike.”

Dungeonmans is going to approach this from an angle that gives the player the option of passing knowledge from one generation to the next. Upgraded locations such as the Alchemy Lab or Enchantry at the Academy can give new heroes a head start on consumable IDs, with more being revealed as the Academy grows. Players are free to decline this power as well, meaning that those who want to stick to the old ways can do so.

When a potion can bring you back from the brink of death, or cause your muscles to burst with incalculable strength, it seems wise to save them for the right moment. Such are the thoughts of many dead Dungeonmens, who let the right moment pass by unknowingly. The hoarding instinct is a strong one, but what most players don’t realize is that games are usually balanced around active use of consumables. Hanging on to them makes early fights harder, and if you hang on to them too long, you’ll outgrow their usefulness.

Roctavian: “Certainly you have to exercise some restraint and not, say, drink a potion of curing in Crawl every time you get poisoned or sick, but it’s generally far better to spend than save. ‘Dying with useful consumables in your inventory’ is practically an insult in the Crawl community.”

andrew smash: “There’s no reason to hoard your cure light wounds potions that might heal 1d6 HP or whatever to use in later fights when that amount of damage might be trivial and not worth wasting a turn over.”

What could help this? Games that employ shops give the player an opportunity to offload unwanted gear, generally allowing them to turn four or five of an item into one that they actually want. Actual Alchemy is another option, letting players mix, match, and dissolve items until they brew the thing they want– or a deadly poison.

Indecisive: “I guess the most important thing I hope for in future roguelikes is for every consumable to be useful… (and) I’d like to see consumables that aren’t the same stuff that gets pulled out for every other roguelike. Sure, they are staples because the mechanics support them the best, but damn, lets get creative!”

Antinumeric: “If I’m in combat and panic-drinking potions I don’t want to get paralysis, I want to get something that can help, but only if I use it correctly, like temporary electric skin, or flaming weapons or the ability to walk through monsters.”

This potion in Brogue causes the ass of every monster within 100 tiles to erupt in rays of sunlight and flame.It is absolutely time to step past the traditional uses of these items and into more interesting waters. Scrolls and wands are often the methods which roguelikes use to grant additional power to characters, even the tubbiest fighter in the heaviest plate armor can use a wand of speed, levitate or teleport. In Dungeonmans, though, powers like those are part of the mastery system, which means they’re available to nearly any character that’s created.

Dungeonmans has a solid collection of “staple” consumables, ones that players expect. But there are also consumables that let you do things you can do in no other way. The most challenging aspect of that sort of development is keeping at least one foot on the ground. There’s a line between creativity and novelty, usefulness and goofiness. Even in the most lighthearted of games, players tend to roll their eyes at the 20th Wand of Comedy they pull up. One option is to combine perks with drawbacks, of which there is no finer example than Morrowind’s Boots of Blinding Speed.

That’ll do for today. Many thanks to the bustling roguelike community at the Something Awful forums for joining the conversation.

Mar 212013

Another busy week here, mostly character development and rebuilding the mastery trees. There’s been a few system changes to the game over the last couple of months so it’s time for me to go back and smooth over the fundamentals. Most of the masteries are existing ones, but there are some new ones, as well as edits that fold two less interesting powers into one.

Many of the touch ups this week have involved ranged combat. I was asked in a comment last Thursday if ranged attacks can go through other characters, like in this image below:

Should the player be able to take a shot at one of those archers in the back, even though he’s got other bad guys between him and them? My answer is yes. It isn’t quite realistic, but that’s not something I worry about. Ranged attackers need to remain a threat for the player to either dispatch quickly, or hide from until ready to fight. Using trees and columns as cover is great, but other enemies, not so much. Take a look at this example:

In this case, it would be advantageous to the monsters if units blocked ranged attacks. Sure, the Boneshooter can’t get a shot in right now, but neither can the player, and the monsters are free to overtake the player as they move in. The player might have to hustle to keep the archer out of LOS, but most movement actions (whether you’re just moving one square or taking a jump/dash action) are usually defensive, meaning the player is going to be overwhelmed unless they stop and fight.

Advantage: monsters, right? So why not let units block ranged attacks? Well here’s another example.

The typical Conga Line Of Death, where the player just hangs out in a hallway and crushes monsters as they just line up to get owned. Boring! All the player has to do is sit here and fire, only worrying about the front line monster, one at a time. To me, this is the most compelling case to let ranged attacks through. The Boneshooter must be a threat, or this setup quickly becomes uninteresting.

That’s it for today, back to work! Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your comments or questions.

Mar 142013

Pictures! Here’s some shots of graveyard combat in action. Let’s follow Lady Crushfeld VII as she explores a ruin discovered in a shrouded forest. Get to clicking!

Look at those cowards. What are they so afraid of, they already died once!

Surrounded! Well that didn’t take long. Zombies are closing in from the south, and a trio of Boneshooters have set up to the east, behind the iron fence. Note that while the fence blocks movement, it doesn’t block Line of Sight. The trees, however, do so. What to do? Execute a Long Jump and try to get next to those Boneshooters? Shield Rush the zombie to the Southwest in order to get distance from the ranged attackers? Or just down a cocktail of potions and start beating the crusty boneshards out of everyone with in arm’s reach while yelling really loud? These are the heavy and ponderous questions one must answer in the rich world of Dungeonmans.

This shot shows Lady Crushfeld VII clearing out some of the fallen temple areas, generally where the good treasure and stronger monsters live. Right in the corner of her vision is a Bone-Damned Apostate, ready to drop all sorts of ruinous green magic on our heroine. The zombies to the Northwest have to funnel through the single hole in the fence, so she’s got time to maybe take cover behind the statue and clear the skeletons, or just try to make an end rush and get to the Apostate before he starts breaking bad with the really unfortunate spells.


Here is a bold action shot, showing our heroine use Furious Assault against a Defeated Captain. Dangerous foes, the Defeated Captains can use Sound the Sundered Horn to buff the strength and speed of nearby undead, making those slow moving Zombies suddenly a great deal more threatening. Let’s nip that crap in the bud right now.

Finally, a couple of smaller shots showing off things like the Ancient Cryoscientist firing Icy Graveshards at heroes, and of course the opportunity for treasure in the Graveyards opening up old, dusty coffins and sarcophagi.

In other news, there’s been plenty of code written this week and other improvements, but I’m going to keep those in my pocked for the next Thursday update, when I don’t have as many pretty pictures 🙂 back to work!

Mar 082013

This week has been dedicated to crunching numbers and preparing the little things in combat and equipment. There’s been a big overhaul of how I handle systems like elemental resists, extra attacks, bonuses from gear and status effects. Scrolls are in now, they weren’t before, and wands mostly work. I don’t think the players would mind too much if they never went away from use but that’ll be fixed shortly!

In addition, the groundwork for set items and unique named items is in place. Every new campaign will have uniquely generated matching sets of gear, with a variety of bonuses that increase in power as you wear more of the parts. They’ll be quite good, but not mandatory, as the idea of cool set gear becomes a grinding chore when it becomes the must-have armor. The set bonuses are designed to be interesting and useful as well as powerful. Bonuses to stats and damage are great, but so are powers like finding rings more often in treasure chests, or recovering health every time a monster nearby flees in terror. Roguelikes are often equal parts careful character building and making the best of the gear you find; a broad and creative spectrum of gear abilities can only help.

So yes, new features this week:

  • Rings
  • Scrolls
  • Wannndsss sort of
  • Elemental resists / weaknesses
  • Gear abilities that increase the power of your attacks
  • Natural elemental attacks on enemies, such as adding poison to a slime’s basic slam
  • The ability for certain enemies to equip items

No screenshots or art shows, unfortunately. I’m excited about all that’s going on but until I take the time to make it presentable, it’ll have to wait. This is going to be a busy month!