7 votes

Roguelikes, persistency, and progression

4 comments

  1. [4]
    hungariantoast
    (edited )
    Link
    I hate to be the guy that everyone rolls their eyes at, but I only saw two roguelikes in that entire video. The first at 0:11 and the second at 6:21. Okay fine, I'll let go of the Berlin...

    I hate to be the guy that everyone rolls their eyes at, but I only saw two roguelikes in that entire video. The first at 0:11 and the second at 6:21.

    Okay fine, I'll let go of the Berlin Interpretation and learn to live a little, but what makes a game a roguelike, versus a roguelite, versus just a roleplaying game is actually a really interesting discussion on its own. There are lots of great reads about this topic, but the essentials in my opinion are (in addition to the RogueBasin page linked above) all of these:


    Anyways, there are a few games that I feel strike a nice, clean balance between the two concepts of absolute permadeath where you start from zero, and permadeath-lite where some progression carries over. I'm actually the kind of person who likes hardcore, start-from-zero permadeath, but as always, it's the actual implementation of the feature within the context of the individual game that makes or breaks the system. I'll try to explain what I mean by looking at three different games, starting somewhere predictable for me: Dwarf Fortress.

    Without explaining it too much, Dwarf Fortress allows you to manage a dwarven colony, usually in the shape of a fortress dug into a mountain or as a hillocks/village above ground and, as the game's motto "Losing is fun!" suggests, things can easily go wrong and they do, quite often. Dwarf Fortress also has an "adventure mode" where you create an adventurer and explore your randomly generated worlds doing all sorts of quests and what not. This is actually the feature of Dwarf Fortress that makes it a roguelike in the eyes of most people.

    Either way, no matter which mode you play, fortress or adventure, you're going to lose and everyone is going to die.

    The way that losing happens is varied from save to save, but what's interesting is that this doesn't have to be the end of your fortress or your adventure. Dwarf Fortress has a feature where, when you are selecting the site on the world map to plant your next fortress, you can actually choose any abandoned site and "reclaim" it with your dwarves. These reclaimed sites can be previous fortresses you have lost or intentionally abandoned, fortresses other dwarves have abandoned, and you might even be able to (though I am not entirely sure) reclaim abandoned sites of other civilizations as well, such as the goblins and elves.

    A reclamation playthrough is actually quite fun, as you usually arrive at your "new" site to find that bodies and skeletons are everywhere (sites are usually lost by being destroyed in an attack), and tons of items like food, furniture, and dozens of other things are usually flung everywhere as well. Reclaimed sites are also quite varied, as the fortresses that are created during world generation are never quite the same, highly dependent on the geography surrounding the fortress and even the mineral wealth of the site. Some generated fortresses even reach to the delicious depths of the candy, just above the circus.

    The real kicker is that most sites, especially in early world generation, are destroyed by monsters like dragons, titans, or forgotten beasts, rather than by goblins or elves. This is extra fun because monsters almost always stay and inhabit the sites they destroy, so embarking to reclaim a site with only the seven starting dwarves and having to quickly secure your party from the monster that most likely lives in the expansive, cavernous fortress below puts an entirely different spin on how fortress mode's gameplay works.

    Adventure mode is a little more straight forward. If your character dies, your next character can find their body and their loot, because each session played in Dwarf Fortress can be played in the exact same world. This actually doesn't matter that much in Dwarf Fortress, but it's way, way more important in the next two games I'm going to talk about.

    (And I'm going to talk about them when I get home, so I'll edit this comment then. Sorry to be a tease.)

    Right, so the next game I want to talk about, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, is similar to Dwarf Fortress, in that it's sorta-kinda-maybe pretty much a roguelike, even though it breaks a few rules, depending on which interpretation you choose to get behind.

    C:DDA is an open source, zombie survival roguelike where, like Dwarf Fortress and its adventure mode, you can create multiple characters in the same, randomly generated world.

    There's not as much explaining to do here as was needed for Dwarf Fortress as the permadeath in C:DDA is pretty simple. If your character dies, you can make a new character, find your old character's body and loot (or what's left of them) and then rinse, wash, repeat. This matters a lot more in C:DDA than it does in Dwarf Fortress' adventure mode, because in C:DDA you live and die by your loot. While it's annoying enough to lose the character you've been training as a master mechanic so you can build an eight-ton, 200MPH capable battle bus mobile base (yes, this is something you can actually do), it's arguably more annoying to lose the books and other supplies you were using to train that character, like the atomic nightlight that let's you read and craft in the dark, or the anvil that it took a whole year (in-game) for you to craft.

    Of course, that doesn't mean characters themselves are worthless in C:DDA, not at all. There's plenty of drawbacks from having a well developed character die, such as losing the integrated tool-set bionic system that gives you screwdrivers and lasers in your arms, or the tentacles mutation that, as you might have guessed, replaces your appendages with a weaboo's wet dream.

    This is why I mentioned in the beginning of this comment that the implementations in the context of the game is what is important. In Dwarf Fortress, recovering your adventurer's loot is hardly a priority, because pretty much anything "powerful" in the game can be easily found at other locations, you just might have to fight dozens of zombies and kill a necromancer all over again to learn the secrets of life and death, but it's totally possible and quite frankly, easily replicable. Dwarf Fortress is, after all, still in alpha, despite being seventeen years old. C:DDA on the other hand, has the success of a player's run practically be defined by the loot, bionics, and mutations you gain, and that's why I actually like the game so much. It's a real pain in the ass to lose a character that can teleport through walls or has a scythe for an arm, but at least the loot they carried and the bases and shelters they built can still be reclaimed with the next character. It's quite an interesting balance that is largely based on the items alone, and everything else is just a reaction of that.

    You can of course turn this off in C:DDA's options, forcing a new world to be generated for each character, but that isn't the default behavior.

    The final game I want to talk about is probably the most basic, but definitely the most familiar of all three:

    Minecraft.

    There isn't a lot to be said here. We all know how this works.

    First of all, Minecraft does have a mode where, if you die, that's it, you have to generate a new world, but that doesn't make it a roguelike.

    In Minecraft's normal survival mode, when a player dies, they drop everything they have on them, and have a certain amount of time to go back and get those items before they despawn. I actually love this system too, because it adds a nice amount of difficulty and risk to what would otherwise be a boring and too forgiving sandbox game (in my opinion). The way that death, respawn locations, and item value all play into the decisions that players have to weigh is something that makes Minecraft great.

    The fact that my items can be disintegrated and lost forever by falling into lava, or that dying in the middle of the deep ocean, making the trip to the bottom arduous and perhaps impossible, has never failed to introduce emotions and gameplay into my sessions in ways that other games simply have not done for me. There's nothing funnier than looking back on how quickly you drained the ocean and made a quarry just to reach your items at the bottom of the sea, or the meaningless, deadly holes that sprout up where players desperately dig down into the mines and caves to find their items deep underground.

    And that's the key, I think, as to why Minecraft's death system and sandbox gameplay come together so well. Distance alone is a threat to the player's well being and precious loot. Go too far, and you'll never be able to recover your items in time, and the fact that you can just plop down a bed doesn't really alleviate this, as your bed needs shelter and that shelter needs to be lit to protect from mobs.

    It also has the unique effect or encouraging the players to stockpile materials and items. If you die deep in the caves underground, it's unlikely you'll be able to recover your loot without having another sword and perhaps armor to help you get there. It keeps Minecraft from just being a straight path to diamond items and then calling it quits. It keeps the players engaged with stockpiling whatever they can to recover from setbacks. The item degradation system has a hand in this as well.

    I don't know if Notch and the Mojang team just got lucky, or if they're geniuses who realized what these systems were doing to make Minecraft such an engaging and downright addictive experience, but I'm glad it worked out the way it did.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      Heichou
      Link Parent
      I have nothing to comment on (aside from your expertly and lovingly crafted writeup), besides the sentiment that I've always wanted to get into DF, and I've tried several times, but just can't. It...

      I have nothing to comment on (aside from your expertly and lovingly crafted writeup), besides the sentiment that I've always wanted to get into DF, and I've tried several times, but just can't. It sounds like a super fun and interesting game, but it's is suuuuuper beginner unfriendly. To be frank, though. I was born in '97, so I'm used to my games looking a tad more advanced than ASCII characters haha

      4 votes
      1. pasabagi
        Link Parent
        It's super beginner unfriendly, but it's really worth the effort. Sit down with the LNP, and the wiki, and do the beginners guide. I honestly think that in a hundred years, when people look back...

        It's super beginner unfriendly, but it's really worth the effort. Sit down with the LNP, and the wiki, and do the beginners guide. I honestly think that in a hundred years, when people look back at computer games of this era, DF will be amongst the games that are remembered, for its innovation, influence, and sheer scale.

        Fortress mode really offers a kind of gameplay that nothing else out there has, a kind of open-ended, genuinely creative, consistently heartfelt and whimsical game that really brings out the best of what computers can do. I have been playing for about ten years now, and honestly, the text is just an interface. What you're really experiencing, once you know the game, is the story - and the story is an absolute work of genius. It's probably the only generative-story work in existence where the 'plot' is something you would write home about.

        3 votes
      2. hungariantoast
        Link Parent
        Yeah, getting past your first few hours in Dwarf Fortress can be difficult, but the game really opens up once you start getting used to it. Have you read PeridexisErrant’s DF Walkthrough or the...

        Yeah, getting past your first few hours in Dwarf Fortress can be difficult, but the game really opens up once you start getting used to it.

        Have you read PeridexisErrant’s DF Walkthrough or the Quickstart guide from the Dwarf Fortress Wiki?

        I also recommend using the Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack. This is a compilation of Dwarf Fortress and a bunch of third party programs, graphics packs, and even a memory hacking library. It's pretty much the main way to play the game. (I'm assuming you are running Windows. If you are running Linux or macOS let me know and I can link you the Starter Packs for those operating systems as well.) The Windows Starter Pack is maintained by a user named PeridexisErrant, the same person whose guide I linked first in this comment.

        I have a comment that I have been using to reply to people on Tildes and Reddit who tell me they want to learn DF and I've been editing it for a while. Do you want me to copy and paste it here so you can go over the specifics and see if that helps you get into the game anymore than you've already tried?

        1 vote