Game-related ramblings.

Month: October 2011

Roguelike Highlights: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

EDIT: If you are reading this from the FUTURE, please note that Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup was on version 0.9 at the time of writing, and the game has changed significantly since. Older versions are all archived here, however, if you want to try any of those.

As I mentioned in my introduction to roguelikes, most players eventually gravitate towards the most complex games. These are the games that can last you an entire lifetime, with deep, complex systems that take years to fully learn and master. Finally managing to win one of these games is a truly momentous event, one that many players will never achieve. But even if they do not, they’ll still fondly remember their best attempts, sagas of their own making that were not pre-determined by the developers. Just because your character eventually succumbed to overwhelming odds doesn’t mean he or she was not a great hero, whose last adventure became a legend for the ages. Or maybe your character’s death was actually rather stupid and humorous instead. Either way, that particular character is gone, living on only as a fond (or humorous) memory. It’s time for the next would-be hero’s story.

The steep learning curves of the most complex roguelikes mean that players will usually pick a favorite and stick to it, as recalibrating one’s playstyle to a different game is difficult. There are three main options: Nethack, Angband variants, and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. While the title of the post gives away my personal pick of the three, I’m going to briefly discuss the other two in comparison. Let’s begin!

Roguelike Highlights: Brogue

[Be sure to read my introduction to roguelikes, and check out my first roguelike highlight here. Also, you can click the images for larger versions.]

Brogue is a more traditional roguelike than Dungeons of Dredmor, but it’s still pretty easy to learn, and it has some really nice features. It’s a good starting point if you want to become acclimated to a typical “keyboard shortcut” control scheme, and it will provide some decent training before trying to tackle the most hardcore roguelikes. Plus it’s enough fun to appeal to veteran players too, and it’s completely free!

It’s also a fairly recent roguelike, with the first version released in 2009, and the most recent update arriving earlier this month. While traditional in its gameplay, it definitely has a modern aesthetic in its design, which makes a great mix.

Roguelike Highlights: Dungeons of Dredmor

[Be sure to check out my introduction to Roguelikes if you haven’t read it yet! Also, click on images for larger versions.]

Dungeons of Dredmor has one serious drawback compared to many other roguelikes: it is not free. But for the small price of $4.99 on Steam, you get one of the best introductory roguelikes around. Indeed, when it was released back in July it shot to the top of the Steam sales charts (to the surprise of its creators), a feat which would be simply impossible if it were not enticing new players who had never tried a roguelike before.

Most roguelikes that are aiming to grab new or inexperienced players make the same mistake — they assume that to be accessible, they must simplify their systems to the point of becoming rather shallow. Dungeons of Dredmor does not make this mistake. Instead, it puts an intuitive interface and easy-to-understand controls on top of a surprisingly deep and complex game. It will teach you how to play a roguelike, but it will also teach you why you should play a roguelike, as it has enough substance to keep you coming back for more, again and again.

Roguelike Highlights: Introduction

Roguelikes constitute an interesting sub-genre. Known for extremely minimal graphics but extremely complex gameplay, they are games which ones plays forever, essentially, returning again and again over the course of one’s lifetime. Most players will never win, but the big trick of the roguelike is that they are fun to lose. Many roguelikes are never finished being made, either, with constant and endless updates from what is often a community of developers. Rare is the roguelike that reaches v1.0, unless the developer(s) are starting with v1.0 and subsequently releasing v1.1, and so on. Far more often a roguelike is abandoned well before reaching the developer’s vision.

The most interesting thing about them, to me, is how differently I play them compared to other games. With a typical single-player game, I will start and work methodically through until the end, and then move to another game. But roguelikes are never my “main” game, they are always things that I play on the side, during short breaks in other activities, or for longer stretches when I simply need a change of pace. They do not require a significant time investment for each playing session, nor do they have any long narratives that I will lose track of if I don’t play for a few weeks (or months). They’re also great for traveling as they usually run on anything, are completely turn-based so I am free to get distracted without consequence, and they (usually) have no sound so I don’t have to worry about annoying other people. Also, the vast majority of them are free.

Unfortunately, roguelikes are notoriously difficult to get into, often having dreadful user interfaces and steep learning curves. I’m hoping to convince more players that they’re worth trying out.

With this introductory post I will talk a little about the history of roguelikes, and describe what they are and how they’ve evolved. In later posts I will highlight some of my favorites, from easily accessible games for first-timers to deep, complex ones to try once you’re hooked. Read on!

Alternate History: Shogo: Mobile Armor Division [Guest Post]

There is too much gaming history to be covered by one man. Fortunately, jefequeso offered to help by contributing this guest piece on Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, the 1998 first-person shooter by Monolith. Read on for his thoughts on the game.

Monolith is something of an enigma. While FPS developers such as Valve and id have signature styles that permeate their classic titles as well as their new releases, it’s hard to see the Monolith that created Shogo: Mobile Armor Division going on to make games as gritty and brutalized as Condemned and FEAR. Shogo is a lighthearted, funny, entertaining, addictive, broken, infuriating, borderline unplayable gem of an FPS, about as far removed from FEAR’s visceral gunfights and Condemned’s disturbing imagery as you can get.

Final Thoughts on Deus Ex: Human Revolution


I have finally finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution. When I recommended that you play it, I estimated I was only about halfway through, but it turned out it was more like one third of the way through. A long game, especially by modern standards, and I was worried that it might overstay its welcome or lose sight of its focus on human augmentation issues. I am happy to report that neither of these things happened; the game remained engaging right until the end, and I can now recommend it without reservation. Definitely play it.

What I didn’t touch on in my earlier post was the legacy that surrounds the original Deus Ex, which is considered by many (including me) to be the best game ever made. Can Deus Ex: Human Revolution live up to such a standard?

History Lessons: System Shock

In 2007, 2K Boston (now known as Irrational Games) released Bioshock, which proved to be a big hit. I wanted to play it but I didn’t have a good enough PC at the time. But as I read more about the game I learned that it was a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, a game I’d heard many good things about but had never played. So I figured I’d find a copy of that and try it first. But then I decided I should really start at the beginning, and try the first System Shock game. I didn’t know much about that one, other than that it was much older, having been released in 1994. I was able to find a cheap used copy on eBay, got it running pretty easily in DOSBox, and gave it a go.

I was not prepared.

History Lessons: Another World

Another World (known in the United States as Out of This World) was released in 1991, by a single man, Eric Chahi (who has recently returned to game development with From Dust). The original release was for the Amiga, a system which I have never even seen, let alone owned, but there was a DOS port a year later, which I did play.  The game made a big impression on me, as it did for many others, for reasons I will discuss.

In 2006, Eric Chahi released the Another World 15th Anniversary Edition, an updated version of the game that runs natively on Windows, has optional updated graphics, some improved checkpointing, and a bunch of extras including making-of videos. I recently got around to playing the new edition, which inspired me to write a History Lesson about it.

On Tutorials

It used to be that, before playing a game, you had to read the manual. Otherwise you’d have no idea how to play, or what was going on. Today, no one reads manuals, although they are still included with most games. Instead, the games themselves teach us how to play; when you load up a game, the early sections introduce the main game concepts and explain the controls, so you can get playing even if you never touched the manual.

This is a great idea. It removes a barrier to entry for games, letting anyone jump in and have fun without having to prepare first. But there can be definite downsides, which are not always considered when a tutorial is implemented. One of the foremost is that when a tutorial is integrated into the beginning of a game, it can significantly detract from the game’s atmosphere and narrative by interrupting it with instructions to the player.

[Use your mouse to click the “Read the rest of this post” link to read the rest of this post]

History Lessons: Outcast

Outcast was released in 1999, which turned out to be very unfortunate timing. It was a time when graphics cards (known then as “3D Accelerator Cards”) had just taken off, and the games industry was running wild with crazy, high-resolution, detailed texture-mapped games that were miles ahead of what had been possible just a few years before. But Outcast took advantage of a different type of graphics, eschewing polygons (well, partly) in favor of voxels, which are in essence 3D pixels. Think Minecraft, but make all the blocks really tiny. The newfangled 3D cards did not support voxel graphics, so Outcast needed to be run entirely on your CPU. To make things worse, you needed pretty much the absolute best CPU available to play the game at any decent framerate. At a time when gamers were spending their money on shiny new 3D cards, Outcast was asking you to shell out for a new CPU instead. As a result, very few people played it.

I was one of the many who didn’t play it. I did try the demo, though, and it was very impressive at the time. I remember being floored by the water graphics… the realistic ripples and waves that I saw were unthinkable at the time; even the 3D accelerator cards couldn’t do graphics like that. The landscapes were also incredible, with believable rolling hills and soaring mountains. Curves, basically, which polygon-based graphics would be unable to accomplish for some time yet. Too bad the demo ran at about 5 FPS on my machine; all I was really able to do was admire the scenery and then quit. Outcast was some kind of dream game that I knew I would never be able to play because there was no way I could afford the dream machine I would need.

Until now, of course.

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