Roguelike Radio Changed My Mind (and I'm only on the first year)
Still working on my how-to book, Let's Make a Roguelike with Construct 2
Here's an excerpt from my initial draft
...And here's a link to the Roguelike Radio podcast.
Apart from consuming everything I can about modern game design and programming patterns, particularly procedural generation, I wanted to uncover more of the mystery about what makes something a good Roguelike and gives players that "Roguelike" feeling.
So I decided to listen to EVERY episode of Roguelike Radio.
I have been immersed in books on game design, level design and the history of video games as well as every GDC or PAX talk on anything to do with Roguelikes I can find... and my favorite resource so far is the Roguelike Radio podcast.
I'm only on episode 18 now and just catching up with 2012. The podcast is fantastic and even after the first season I'm beginning to unravel the mystery.
The podcast generally 2 or 3 talkers, Darren Grey, Andrew Doull, John Harris, with a special guest developers like Daniel Jacobsen, Nicholas Vining and David Baumgart of Dungeons of Dredmore, or Edmund McMillen of The Binding of Isaac. They've even had the original creators of Rogue, Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman.
So far I've learned a few things that make a Roguelike. The speakers, generally aren't sticklers for turn based play or ascii graphics, but they definitely have things they like and don't like generally.
I know it when I see it
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."
But one thing that comes up over and over is the idea that items and weapons should be there to change the way the game is played. Not and I quote "Trading a plus 2 sword for a plus 3 sword." This indicates a kind of linear player progression that doesn't really change the gameplay or add real variety.
Same S#$%, Different Numbers
I think it's something I noticed in other RPGs that made me bored and want to quit playing. I call it the "Same s#$% more hitpoints" effect.
When I played Secret of Mana, a beautiful ambitious RPG for the SNES, after getting higher levels, I realized I was just attacking the same exact things but they just had more hit points and did more damage and I did more damage and had more hit points. It was basically the same exact thing as the first dungeon, only the decimal point had moved. Even the higher level spells didn't really change the game much. They were like the low level spells but did more damage, or healed more... again same stuff different numbers.***
In RPG maker there's even a graph for this progression.
What's the point? The above graph really soured CRPGs in general for me. As Ed McMillen said in their interview, "There hast to always be a mystery."
*** This is given a strong caveat that Secret of Mana was in most every way a wonderful game and I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. As far as SNES expansive for the time RPGs go it's pretty amazing, and was rated exactly that by IGN: HERE
So it's not so much THAT game, it's what I believe to be a flaw in the kind of game it is. The potential for repetitive progression in RPGs in general... and I have run into that same problem in a wide range of games from The Bard's Tale for the Commodore 64 to Borderlands on Xbox 360.
I think there's a point in most any RPG including Dungeons & Dragons when the monsters just seem like numbers and it loses its fun. Maintaining this fun and mystery is what a good Roguelike can do.
In a random review of Borderlands 2 I found, one blogger said it:
"Fiddlefarting over whether to sell Gun A that does X damage and has Y% of this effect or Gun B which does X+1 damage but doesn’t have that effect but another is not role-playing... ...the development curve and sense of progression in the game remains completely screwed up- it’s too long, drawn out, and rewards perseverance and grinding rather than good play and player skill-building. " --Michael Barnes' blog
This is very close to the same things the Roguelike Radio podcast said in their Diablo episode. "...If I fail it's because I didn't grind enough." (paraphrasing from memory).
So now that we've identified the problem, what is the solution?
I'm going to have to listen longer to find that answer, but one part of it seems to be having the player not just progress, but change. In The Binding of Isaac, getting different weapons changes how the player looks and plays dramatically. It's far beyond adding another +1 to your sword. Different resources should add variety not just progression. In a Roguelike, some form of resource management is a major part of the game, and how it is executed is as important if not more so than procedural generation.
So here is my new "big three" list. Because it's important to have things in arbitrary 3 item lists.
1. Procedural Generation
Player Progression Resource Management
After one season of Roguelike Radio, I have changed my mind about my 3 most fundamental properties of a Roguelike. Originally I thought that it was 1. Procedural Generation. (still cool with that one) 2. Permadeath. (It's important) 3. Player progression.
But player progression isn't the best way of saying the "roguelike element" I'm trying to describe.
They described a better and I think more essential to the Roguelike experience game mechanic, and dedicated an entire episode to it:
|First free clipart I found when I did an image search for "Resource Management."|
So I'm changing it to Resource Management, and I have much more to say about it, and I will improve the inventory and skill management parts of the book and sample program.
Yay research. Only 4 more years of podcasts to go.
As far as the book is going I'm working on several generic dungeon making algorithms: Traditional "Rogue" rooms and hallways, Cellular Automata Caves, Agent based level carving, pre-made rooms in bitwise patterns... and more.
...back to work.