Saturday, December 17, 2016

Zelda Randomizer set to stream at 2 PM Eastern

Aiming to stream an unseen Zelda Randomizer game (barring technical difficulties) today at 2 PM Eastern, at

Friday, December 16, 2016

Stuff concerning @Play, Zelda Randomizer and other things

Hey all!  I feel that I'm starting to build up a list of new topics to discuss, so expect blog resumption soon!

On that note, tomorrow (Saturday) I am going to stream a never-seen-before play of a Zelda Randomizer game.  All the dungeons in different places, the rooms scrambled, the items placed who-knows-where, possible Patra in the first dungeon, and so on.  I will post details, including Twitch channel, when it's ready to go.  (Zelda Randomizer is the thing I wrote about for the @Play book, which got republished on Kotaku a few months ago.)

Speaking of which... I've been wondering if it might be a fun activity to use duplicate Zelda Randomizer games to have multiple people playing, not as a race as is sometimes done over at Speed Runs Live, but as a kind of cooperative thing, where players comment in a chat room about their discoveries and help each other get through the game.  Hmm....

In other news, I'm considering writing another book, although shorter and cheaper, about the stories behind some of the known glitches and odd behaviors of a variety of games.  For example, it's a generally known trick among classic arcade fans that if you wait long enough on the first level the bugs stop shooting at you, and then never shoot for the rest of the game, but the website Computer Archeology discovered why it happens.  I've collected a large number of these odd facts.  Once in a while I post one of them to a website (usually Metafilter), and when I do there's about a 10% chance a big site picks it up and makes a story out of it, such as when Press The Buttons reblogged my discovery of the secret behavior of the fishmen in the original Castlevania.  So I figure I might as well make a book out of 'em, heh.

News on the stream tomorrow....

Friday, September 23, 2016

Roguelike Celebration, Notes on My Talk

I am back, at last, from Roguelike Celebration in San Francisco, and the longest trip I've taken in my whole life.  Thanks to the people who ran it for helping me to attend and for putting up with a hick from rural Georgia.  When I wasn't working on and fretting about the presentation (I was hacking away on it literally minutes before I presented it), I had a great time!

Here are all the talks of the conference, which might be useful to you even if you were there, since they had two tracks going simultaneously.

Other people have discussed the experience of being there. I did that kind of thing last year with IRDC US 2015, so I'll spare you all that this time and, instead, provide an addendum to my own weird little talk.

Carrying the vagueish title "Difficulty in random dungeon games" and noticably not carrying a description like the other talks, mine was, I believe disjoined and weird and rambling, with actual slides marked "Aside." They're not *really* asides, they're there for a reason, the slides being the skeleton that the connective tissue of my talk was supposed to join together, y'see. Whether I succeeded in that or not, well, I leave to you to decide.

Here is the talk (YouTube). Here are my slides (Dropbox link, Powerpoint)

Gachami (Copyright Konami)
Note that I didn't get through the whole thing; the presentation ran out of time right before the Bubble Bobble slide, the point of which was to demonstrate an obscure, but not truly random, play mechanic as an example of the kind of trend-causing behavior I was talking about. (If you get to the end of the slides you'll find a picture of Gachami, who is my favorite video game character of the hour. I heard that the rules of the Internet require me to provide that. Anyway, here's video of the game she's from, the ridiculous Gachagachamp.  It is not a roguelike.)

Speaking of unasked-for personal opinions, my favorite moment of the conference was when one of the Rogue devs (did I mention all three of the creators of Rogue were in the room at the same time, for the first time in 30 years? SO AWESOME!!!) asked the crowd if anyone there knew what Rog-O-Matic was, and of the hundred-or-so people there just two hands went up. One of them was mine; I've even written an article that half of which was on Rog-O-Matic! (I think it's in the book? Here it is on GameSetWatch.)

I am making this post because it is the culmination of ideas and thoughts I've been struggling to render on @Play for literally years. I'm not even convinced the main part of the presentation, on "Knowledge, Logic and Wit," is even useful, but people told me they liked it anyway. I could write several articles on these things, especially "Wit." Yes it's a terrible name, someone suggested "intuition" but that doesn't get to the heart of it I think? One could also call it general skill of playing video games.

Anyway, here are my comments on the talk:

1. I worked feverishly the days before the talk trying to assemble a jumble of thoughts into something coherent. This is why the title doesn't really fit the subject well; it drifted a bit in the days, indeed hours, before I gave it.

2. There is a whole essay to be written on how CRPGs have drifted fron pen-and-paper RPGs, often for the worse. It's the copy-of-a-copy phenomenon: early CRPGs were inspired by PnP RPGs, while later CRPGs were inspired by other CRPGs. These days, it's often CRPGs-inspired-by-JRPGs-inspired-by-older-CRPGs. (Remember: Yuji Horii was inspired to create Dragon Quest from seeing Ultima games on display on a trip to the US.)

3. There are multiple essays to be written elaborating on what exactly I mean by Knowledge, Logic and Wit. One thing I wanted to make clearer in the talk: "Wit," in addition to being not the greatest name, is also kind of a cheat, defined as everything that isn't the other two. It might be dividable into narrower categories. Also note that this classification of skill doesn't map as well to real-time and action games, in which reaction speed and decision making under time contraints also matter.

4. On grind: Now understand, I believe that if something is fun, it is its own justification. People play horribly grindy games of their own free will, so I have to conclude there is something enjoyable they get out of them. That doesn't mean that I think people should pander to this desire, the playing of basically empty games. (Some people who make horribly grindy games often think of game design in behavioral terms, like it were a Skinner box. I couldn't be more against that.)

My definition of "grind" is, something mechanical a player has to do to pass time in a game before he's allowed to get to interesting gameplay. Ideally players will have interesting decisions to make at low levels and high. The attempted elimination of gride is DCSS's aim, and it's admirable. (I even think they go a bit too far in it, but I can't fault them for trying.)

It is worth noting that many players (especially retrogamers) believe that Dungeons & Dragons itself is best played as a low-level game, that characters get too powerful at levels above six or so. Interested readers are directed to search out "E6," a variant of D&D that limits players to 6th level.

But what makes grind, grind? Aren't games played for enjoyment, regardless of the form it takes? I don't think so. Listen this.

One aspect of gaming that I hear no one talk about is their improving aspect. That is, playing games helps build alertness, ability to think under pressure, ability to judge situations, ability to look ahead to future game states, logical thinking, intuition, and a plethora of other skills that have real and direct applications for everybody! People who play strategy games very well are likely to be very smart, and people who strive to learn to play strategy games well will become smarter as a result. I don't mean this in an airy "Brain Training" way, but that well-made games push players to improve themselves as a basic function of their playing. Badly made games reward only luck, time, and/or money put into the playing.

This is why I said the human race will thank you for eliminating grind.  It's not entirely hyperbole; it literally wastes the player's time.

5. Every time I try to pin down exactly what wit is I don't do a great job. But there is something there.
Part of it, as mentioned previously, is general skill at gaming. When you've gotten good at Pac-Man, some of the skill transfers over to other maze-like, and even general action gaming. And some of the skill even transfers, slightly, potentially, to real-life situations. (See "improving aspect," above.) Some of it is putting yourself in the mindset of the game designer; detecting when something seems *too easy*, that sort of thing. Some of it is guessing story direction, like figuring out the villain ahead of time in Scooby-Doo. Some of it is subconscious pattern recognition.

Some is getting better with (player) experience, which I find to be a very interesting process in non real-time games....

6. So why is it useful to name Wit at all? Because, and here is the thing: when the moon is full, I think the purpose of roguelike design is to preserve the function of Wit in a game for as long as possible.
The nature of Wit is that it turns into Knowledge (conscious information about the game) with practice. In a non-randomized game, this is nearly immediate, which is why they aren't replayable. Once you know the game, if the game doesn't change on succeeding plays, the fun is gone.

Randomization obfuscates the processes of the game, changing the world on successive plays, which keeps it in the domain of Wit longer. This is not forever, it's only a delaying process. A walkthrough of NetHack doesn't tell you, step by step, how to win, but there are plenty of spoilers that explain almost everything about the game that can be explained.  If the processes that produced those items were somehow randomized, then those spoilers wouldn't work, but more would arise that detailed the meta-processes used, and so on, without end.  That doesn't mean randomization isn't a (very!) good idea, just that it delays the inevitable.

Even without spoilers and walkthroughs, them you can figure out some things about the game, pick up some Knowledge, but some of that is purposely made invalid when the game ends. But even if all the visually-signifying characteristics of the game changed from play to play, the underlying algorithms remain the same, which keeps the game consistent between plays, which players can subconsciously detect as Wit, but will eventually become Knowledge, which, when applied with Logic, is a surer means of winning.

This is because the nature of thoughtful play involves analysis, which is the process of formalizing successful approaches. This is why I am fascinated by games that cannot be so easily analyzed. Someone came up to me (I forgot who, sorry!) and suggested Go as a game that appeals to Wit very well, and yes that's an extremely good observation. Although analysis provides some headways into Go, the same things that keep computers from playing as well as expert Go players are the same things that keep it in the domain of "Wit," which seems to point at something fundamental. Machine learning folks may have a better name for it than I. Maybe "intractability?"

Anyway, that's it for the moment. Now that the monkey is off my back, maybe I can write @Play columns more frequently again! Until next time....

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Something called the Casino Dungeon

Not a new @Play yet, indeed the time required to write a full column is rather a lot so I might be changing the format soon to something shorter, and also something that covers a wider array of random and procedural-content gaming.  But also....

I'm working on a couple of things that I've been calling SECRET PROJECTS, but they're not really secret so much so much as I don't want to get anyone's hopes up.  But the one I'm working on now is starting to look like it'll at least hit a stage where there will be a good, playable prototype, and I want to ask for you guys' opinions on it when it does.

The working title... well originally (as in, years ago, when I first had the idea) it was going to be Dungeon Solitaire, but then someone else took that name.  (Let's be clear, the Dungeon Solitaire that's already out there I have nothing to do with.)  And anyway it's not really solitaire, but it is a game that uses traditional playing cards.

Playing a ton of Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey lately, a game I obviously like a whole lot but am still ambivalent about, has convinced me to dust the idea out and finally push through the many weird design questions I still had about it and at least see if someone other than me will find this interesting.

It has more than a few links to old-school, pen-and-paper roleplay gaming, in that characters are fragile and the dungeon is really dangerous.  The dungeons are randomized too, which by my standard at least puts it into roguelike territory, so I'll probably be talking more about it here in the coming weeks.

It's also inspired a bit by an obscure game in D&D's history, the weird roleplaying card game Dragonlance 5th Age, of which I actually have a deck somewhere around here, even though I've only gotten to play it once.  Combat, in some ways, is kind of like a trick-taking card game played against AI opponents.  That kind of replaces the traditional roguelike tactical combat, but like traditional roguelikes, dealing with and taking advantage of the AI is part of the game.

Anyway, when it's in a state to see I'll put it up here, and you can have a look for yourself.  A bit of advance warning though, the prototype will be a console program, and require Python 2.7.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Progress on 86

The Quarries of Scred article, while derailed for a while, is back underway, along with some words on its predecessor Boulder Dash.  The problem, of course, is that these games stand somewhat away from roguelikes in general, although Scred's randomness still brings it back.  It isn't lost on me that, while it seems like half the new games on Steam have roguelike somewhere in its description, Quarries of Scred doesn't.  I think it has strong lessons to teach us, though, about what turn based games can be (that is, real-time), and about map generation, which is rather random-er than your typical procedurally-generated game.

I'm a bit worried, actually, that I keep edging out from under the roguelike banner in these articles.  Back in the days of GameSetWatch I could write the occasional Pixel Journeys article, but I'm not sure if you guys are so interested in essays that don't ultimately come around to being about roguelike games.  I'll probably start (yet) another blog to handle those articles, and just link to it from here when it sees something new.

Discovered during the writing: amazingly, the publisher of Boulder Dash, First Star Software, is still a living entity.  Back in the microcomputer era they had a reputation for producing interesting and unique products, like the Spy vs. Spy games.  Nowadays they seem mostly to be a rights-holding company that licenses its holdings out to developers, or maybe contracts them to produce games based on their properties for them to sell.  But they still seem to be, fundamentally, First Star Software, not like when Infogrammes decided to drape the gory skin of Atari around their neck.  That's something to celebrate.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

@Play 85: A Talk with Digital Eel, Makers of the Infinite Space Games

Some of the best quasi-roguelike space games out there are Digital Eel's terrific Infinite Space games: Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space and Sea of Stars: Infinite Space III.  Quick-playing, always challenging, and filled with secrets to discover.  @Play spoke with the principals of Digital Eel, Rich Carlson and Iikka Keränen, about the long-lived series.

@P: Tell me about your company -- when was it founded, about the main people and your day jobs?

Iikka Keränen: Rich and I unofficially started Digital Eel in 1999 when we both worked at Looking Glass. That's when we bought the domain name and started working on the (never released) 4X strategy game we called Infinite Space. I have been working in the game industry since 1998 when I was hired by Ion Storm in Dallas TX. For the last fifteen years, I've been at Valve.

Rich Carlson: I was a musician in Minnesota for 20 years before deciding to try to make games for a living. I met Iikk at Ion. We ended up working at four game studios together! You may recall that Ion Storm, Rogue Entertainment, Looking Glass Studios were all closing, one by one, at the time. That was hard to watch, and hard be a part of but the games turned out well. Meantime, Iikka and I became friends and decided to make some games ourselves for fun. Later, when we came to Seattle for another game job, we met artist Bill Sears working at the same studio. He turned out to be as weird as we are, with a terrific sense of humor, and so we all became fast friends too. That's when Digital Eel was "officially" founded. Bill made the splash screen for Plasmaworm and we went on from there as a trio. Henry Kropf is the newest member of the Digital Eel nuclear family. He's been programming professionally for something like 20 years, starting at Vicarious Visions in 1996. (We all started in the game biz at about the same time.) He worked on PC and PS1 projects--the hardcore space-sim, Terminus (Wikipedia), for example. Since then he's worked on a number of projects and ports, most recently for the latter Digital Eel games, as well as being the sole programmer of the fantasy word game SpellBounders (iOS App Store).

@P: That's really interesting! The SAIS games have this outsider art feel, I think at least, like they're from some alternate universe where games evolved subtly differently. For some reason it's weird to think you're embedded in the traditional game development community! I find it difficult to believe you'd have the time or energy for this if you guys worked at, for instance, EA. Are you worried that the day job might interfere with the SAIS games?

RC: It is outsider art! Although Bill worked at game studios, he came from the era of Kustom Kars, underground comix and lowbrow surrealism. If you've read Juxtapoz or Zap Comix, that's the the realm. That's what you see in Weird Worlds, and on the DE splash screens. 60's and 70's counterculture art (done only as Phosphorus can!)

IK: Sometimes it does interfere - Funny that you should mention EA, we actually worked on an EA-published game (American McGee's Alice) after we stopped working on the original Infinite Space "big game", and before we made Plasmaworm and SAIS. That was a time when we really didn't have the energy to do our own thing. Valve is much better at not interfering with life outside the office. I think it has to do with it being a more mature company - most people have families and can't be expected to work seven days a week, that sort of stuff.

RC: We have to work on our games slowly much of the time. But isn't that best if you can? Slow and steady wins the race. We plan carefully and go step by step. Looking back, 15 games in 14 years says we're finishers not flakes.

@P: How did Strange Adventures get started? What are its play inspirations? From whence came the series' unique backstory?

IK: We had run out of steam on the original 4X game, and I had realized I needed to learn proper Windows programming as my previous coding experience was DOS-based. As I taught myself DirectX, we made a simple arcade game called Plasmaworm in 2001 and then decided to make another small game using the content we had created for Infinite Space. This is what became Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. I was a big fan of Starflight, and we had also played a Star Trek boardgame that influenced the early design of Strange Adventures quite a bit. At the beginning, we were planning to have text-based mini adventures on each planet, that sort of stuff. But we soon realized that streamlining the game as much as possible was the way to go. We had written a lot of back story for the 1999 "big game" and had a very rich universe for you to explore - much more content than you'd ever see in a single session, and that kept the game lively and surprising.

RC: Other games we played that were inspiring were Frank Butterfield's Voyage of the BSM Pandora, which turned out to be a kind of proof-of-concept that a big game theme could be condensed into a small, short game yet still convey the feeling, not just the flavor, of a star spanning saga. Though the examples I'm mentioning are fantasy-themed, they played into the design concept directly. Proto-roguelike boardgames like Terrence Donelly's Sorcerer's Cave and Greg Costikyan's Deathmaze, were, like modern full-blown roguelikes like Henzell's Dungeon Crawl and NetHack, strong influences as well.

@P: Ah, you said the magic word! Starflight also came up in an interview I did some years back with Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress, who also cites it as an inspiration! And Starflight's lead designer Greg Johnson is also one-half of Johnson-Voorsanger, who made ToeJam & Earl, and the prime mover of the current TJ&E sequel/revision! It's starting to seem like Starflight is a secret nexus of inspiration for roguelike developers. RC: Starflight was a big deal. I remember waiting and waiting, exasperated, for the C-64 port to be released. Seemed to take forever but it was worth it. Btw, Starflight's spiritual cousin, Star Control II, strongly influenced the way music is used in Strange Adventures and Weird Worlds.

@P: All of those games you mentioned before sound really interesting, especially Greg Costikyan's entry. He's a bit of a NetHack fan himself you know.

RC: I didn't. I know he was a hardcore Civ fan. Greg has a fantastic imagination. He's tackled quite a variety of subjects. His ludography is frighteningly impressive. ("A bibliography is a list of the books you've written; a discography is a list of the music you've recorded; and a ludography is a list of the games you've designed." - GC)

@P: I'm a bit interested in that 4X game you mentioned. Is that project entirely abandoned or might it reappear someday? Or alternatively, do you feel it's important to be able to abandon a project that's no longer working, or gone in uninteresting directions?

IK: We have abandoned a few projects for various reasons. The big 4X game was one - it was just too ambitious for us to finish, too similar to some other games, like Master of Orion, and I didn't really know how to do multi-player code at the time (plus the whole MS-DOS thing!). It was a good choice to switch to smaller projects.

RC: For us it's about being caught by something. Like when you get into Game of Thrones or Magic: The Gathering. Only the special, best things capture you. That's what we wait for and pounce on when it shows up!

IK: Even if we do decide to make a 4X style game in the Infinite Space universe, it will not be the old project resurrected. But it's interesting how much "stuff" from it appears in Sea of Stars - for example, the races and most of the items etc have a direct lineage to the old 4X project.

@P: You're calling the games "space roguelikes," could you explain, or even justify, that statement?  

IK: Right, our games don't exactly look like the typical fantasy roguelike! But they do play like one in many ways. We have the procedurally generated maps, high level of randomness and the sense of being dropped in a world that's bigger than what you can experience in one play-through. There's no saving and reloading, so all your actions are permanent. There are tons of items and it's up to the player to figure out how to best use them. I'm a big fan of traditional roguelikes as well, so I know the dissimilarities too, of course. For a while, we used the moniker "Roguelike-like" but it's a bit clumsy.  
RC: Strange Adventures and the rest of the series pass the test in most cases, yet they must be termed as hybrids. I've looked at the Berlin Interpretation and have thought a lot about this. We respect the pure roguelike form very much, for all of the good reasons. We do sometimes say these games are space roguelikes--but in the same way that FTL was termed that. The primary reason is that it is the best way to describe the Infinite Space gameplay, overall, with just one word. Describing SAIS as "space strategy" or "adventure strategy" or "strategy rpg" doesn't convey the gameplay experience at all!

@P: I didn't mean to imply that your games couldn't be roguelikes, we've certainly covered enough games that blur the lines! And I agree that "roguelike-like" is a bit clumsy, as you've probably witnessed, there's a bit of confusion on the proper way to identify games that are inspired by Rogue's randomness and replayable elements but aren't strictly top-down, tactical combat, dungeon exploration.

RC: We have to remember that the first makers of roguelikes didn't invent the Berlin list. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson did. A roguelike is what it is (a randomized, turn-based D&D/Tolkien themed dungeon survival sim on a grid) because early roguelike creators were emulating the features of their favorite game. So, while the venerable roguelike form can number and claim these traits, it can't really own them.

@P: Describe the basic "explore a space in a limited time" gameplay.

RC: One roguelike aspect that isn't always mentioned--I don't think it's on the Berlin list--is clocks. Food clock. Radiation exposure clock. Spell duration clocks. Thirst clock. Poison damage clock. Etc. If one of these clocks time out, your character is in trouble, which adds more tension to the game. Awesome! I think clocks are an essential part of a roguelike game. Sea of Stars, Weird Worlds and Strange Adventures use clocks too. The primary one is to return to player character's homeworld within a set period of time or suffer a reward penalty. This victory condition mirrors somewhat the idea of Star Trek's "five year mission", or Darwin's voyage, or a pirate adventure for that matter.

@P: The alien races provide a good mix of beings to interact with, each of which presenting their own personality in behavior, text and combat. Any favorites?

RC: I really like one of the new species we added to Sea of Stars, the Calatians. They're mentioned in the previous games but actually make an appearance in IS3 as a full-fledged race. They boast of their mighty ships and fearsome weaponry that appear in conbat as small and unthreatening. Are they bluffing? (Tip: If you're nice to them, you might even get rewarded with one to add to your flotilla.)

IK: The Tchorak have been my favorite for a long time, just because they are so... alien. Of course, I know much more about them than you'll see in any of our games, but I hope you'll get to know them better one of these days.

RC: I can't wait to explain the sex life of a Tchorak. Or maybe I can.

@P: Secret item features (Like "hypervision," or the Lookout Frogs & Toy Robot, or the Crystal Fish?) What inspired them? Why don't more items have these features? Is there a magic number?

IK: These items are a bit like a card that allows you to break one specific rule in a boardgame - they're limited by the number of rules that can be broken in a useful way. I do agree we should think of more, there are probably fun things that we've missed.

RC: What Iikka said. There is a sweet spot where it feels good and we sort of "call it." But it's also a matter of seeing a possibile connection that might be interesting or entertaining or, more importantly, useful. If the designer puts a ship thief in the game, she should put one or two things in to help the player prevent theft as well.

@P: One-in-eight games in the original two Infinite Space games are "mission games," where the game rules change slightly and unexpectedly in the middle of play? What inspired them?

IK: I think it was at least partly inspired by some random events in 4X games, like Master of Orion where occasionally a "space amoeba" appears and starts to wreak havoc. In Strange Adventures we just had one, and we didn't want it to happen every time because that would have made the game very repetitive, so we made it fairly rare. Now, in Sea of Stars we have five different missions (and counting...) and we can just randomly pick one.

RC: These games are intended to be like instant space opera generators, so it stands to reason that every once in a while a chance to "save the galaxy," or save your character's homeworld, etc., should be included. It also breaks the game up from session to session, enhancing replayabilty, we hope, by helping to keep things fresh and surprising.

@P: One interesting thing about Weird Worlds in particular is how frequently one can come up non-combat, or what we might call "instant win" solutions to game problems, like [SPOILERS] Mirroring enemy fleets into black holes, Vacuum Collapsing the Yellow Kawangii or using the Chromium Gong on Primordius. These solutions seems to be deprecated somewhat in Sea of Stars in favor of more traditional combat. Is there a particular reason?

IK: With the exception of the mirror, these still work :) But we have tried to balance some items to make them less game-breaking - the gong no longer has unlimited uses, the hyperdrive is not always the best choice, and so on. This is mainly done to keep the game challenging even if you find the item.

@P: On the play changes with each version. Especially the substantial formula changes in Sea of Stars (Maj. Brass prologue dropped, set sector size, no need to return home at end, all mission games, removal of popular earlier items like Aetheric Mirror and Mantle of Babulon.) Was this to fix a perceived lack in the earlier games? Is the new game's 3D starmap related to them? Will we see any of these items return in later updates?

IK: We chose not to implement the mirror for various reasons - for example, we don't want you to accidentally move Haven Station or the Klakar Nest. If we made space stations non-mirrorable like the space hulk was in Weird Worlds, then you'd keep running into situations where you get a sensor blip but can't use the mirror, and that tells you it's a homeworld. If the mirror ever does appear, it will need to have some different kind of behavior. The Mantle would be easy enough to make, but as in Weird Worlds it would end up reducing your score so it's not a great item - also, combat is fun! It would perhaps be more interesting to come up with other ways to befriend specific races.

@P: Maybe describe a bit on the use of nebulas & black holes, their role in the design as an obstacle to exploration. (Nebulas usually slow the player down greatly upon entry; Black Holes may be hidden at the start of a map, and force the player to decide to turn back to forge ahead and possibly risk losing immediately.)

IK: Since we're dealing with a time limit, adding "terrain" forces you to make plans around it and makes the game more interesting, and different each time. We originally had ideas for other kinds of obstacles, like asteroid fields, but just these two made the cut.

@P: Events — derelict ship, supernova, Esmeralda, alien rescues. Their appearance, and the timing with which they appear, has the potential to either profoundly change the game, or not really change it much at all, depending on when they turn up, it feels to me like an essential part of the Infinite Space experience. Do you agree?

IK: Oh yes, these are a big part of making each game session unique and giving you the sense that almost anything can happen in the Infinite Space universe, from the silly to the spectacular.

@P: The Infinite Space games have board and card game versions? What are they like?

RC: They're fun. Eat Electric Death! is an old school hex and turn-based tactical starship combat boardgame based on the ships, ship system, items, and the way ships manuever, in the computer game versions. Infinite Space: Explorers is essentially a starship combat card game that uses a "starmap" board to keep track of where fleets are, which stars have been explored and where card battles occur. The two Diceland Space sets based in the IS games use James Ernest's unique combat system with giant paper dice. Each die is a starship and you roll them on the table in combat. It's diceless and real time. Nobody makes games like Cheapass Games.

@P: How did James Ernst and Cheapass Games help the Strange Adventures series to get started?

RC: By generously providing a distribution point for the game. Indie game portals didn't exist then, so it was terrific to have his support. He also got CD's made of the first three or four games. Those are like collector's items now.  

@P: On mods... Where did you get the idea to make the game moddable? How easy is it, would you say, to make a mod? What are your favorite mods?

 IK: Rich and I both made mods before we started working in the game industry, so it was natural to us. I also think that the same things that make the game easy to modify, make it easier for us to create the content for it in the first place. There are a lot of cool mods, but the "Even Stranger" and "Even Weirder" series is a standout favorite for sure. Modding tends to get harder as games get more complex, but we try to make it as easy as possible. In Sea of Stars, we use standard text file format to store all the data in the game so it's possible to get started with just a text editor.

@P: Will we see the return of Major Brass?

IK: He's the face of the Terran Space Fleet :) Not sure if he's going to make a personal appearance, but anything's possible!

RC: New face; same Brass.

@P: Who was Phosphorous?

IK: Phosphorous, aka. Bill Sears was the third Eel and our main artist for over a decade. He made the splash screen art for half a dozen games, tons of Weird Worlds items and creatures, etc. We had some unforgettable times together, and multiple road trips down to IGF in California. He passed away after a heart attack in 2012. We really miss him.

RC: Bill was an amazing friend and contributor. And musician, as we later found out! But not in the traditional sense of guitars and trombones. His music was strange, handmade in his garage and surrealistic. Technically it would be called musique concrete and found sound music. You know how it is. Usually when you hear sound collages that are a bit avant garde, you say no! Turn it off! But it isn't that way at all with Bill's music. It is engrossing like falling into a mind adventure. Very special stuff.

@P: Is any of his music in the games? Do you think there might be a place for it, even if just one or two pieces, or are there rights or thematic issues? Is there a place where readers can find them on the internet?

IK: Bill created music for both Brainpipe (Steam - Desura) and Data Jammers (Steam - Desura). We shared an Independent Games Festival audio award for Brainpipe. You can listen to some of Bill's music for Data Jammers here, and mixed medleys of Brainpipe music here: Smetlov's Locus - Trippocampus - Cognative Cascade.

Thanks to Rich and Iikka for talking with me, and for putting up with my whimsical and makeshift interview process!  Which reminds me, I still have a followup interview with Tarn Adams to finish....  by the way, surprise!  This isn't from the book but is an entirely new column!  I'll probably be splitting the column between book stuff and entirely new essays for a while, so don't forget about the site even if you already have it!

Friday, March 11, 2016

7DRL Home Stretch!

The 7DRL Challenge (warning: server under heavy load right now!), a week-long orgy of coding and caffeine in which a multitude of devs both experiences and newbie try to write a playable roguelike game, is in its last day.  It is, in my opinion, both the most wonderful and Quixotic "game jam" around.

Some years ago I wrote up every finishing game they made one year.  (Those columns are not in the book, sadly -- too ephemeral.)  I sometimes contemplate doing it again, but then the rational part of my brain says get real -- it took me four whole columns to do it the first time, taking me a couple of months, and there's far more people involved these days.  But a few outstanding games, or at least seeds for games, inevitably appear each year, and it's always a good idea to watch for whatever Jeff Lait or Darren Grey make.  I'll probably do a highlights column.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

@Play 84: The Rescue of Meta-Zelda

This originally went up, all places, at Kotaku!  While there's six or so other new pieces in the book that have yet to go up on the site, for various reasons I wanted to spotlight this one again, as I think Zelda Randomizer is really something special.

So, what does it really mean to be a roguelike game?  My contention, repeated often, is that turn-based tactical combat on a grid and basic randomization are not enough, and may not even be essential, that these things, while part of the basic definition of the term, don't get to the core of what makes the genre interesting from a play or design standpoint.  My thesis is that some element of greater discovery, like item identification, is required, and that there needs to be some consequence to the player's explorations, some cost to searching.

By this measure, one of the most awesome roguelikes of recent memory?  I'll tell you.  It's called The Legend of Zelda.

(Zelda secret tune plays off-key)

Well, not just the Legend of Zelda.  There is an important modification to it, or rather, a program that systematically makes modifications.  That program is fcoughlin's Zelda Randomizer.

It was originally developed for the speedrunning community, which had to deal with an interesting problem.  Speedrunning a known computer game is not really the same thing as speedrunning a game you've never seen before.  You learn where everything is, or refer to FAQs, for the first few plays, but after that it's all about optimizing a known world.  Zelda is amazingly resistant to such optimization; the game seems almost designed around the idea that players should be able to use many different routes and approaches to completing it, to the degree that every enemy can be defeated by at least one weapon other than the player's sword until the very final boss of the game.

But despite this, and the fact that we're still not absolutely sure what the fastest way to complete Zelda is, the game is still a static thing.  The use of randomization in the original Legend of Zelda is interesting (look up, some time, the algorithm used to determine what items enemies drop, that's a rabbit hole for you), but, ultimately, each room still contains the same enemies, the dungeons are all laid out the same, and the tough rooms and treasures are distributed the same way each game.

That is where Zelda Randomizer comes in.  It is a fairly simple program, nothing more than a bunch of checkboxes really, that takes an unmodified ROM of The Legend of Zelda and, depending on what you check, scrambles it and basically makes a new quest for it.

The Legend of Zelda (Famicom/NES), described

Starring Leslie Nielsen as the Helpful Old Man

While The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming's longest-running series, not as many people these days are not actually that familiar with the game in its original form.  A brief description follows.

The Legend of Zelda (1987) is fundamentally an exploration and combat game, somewhat like Metroid in that regard, although it's an overhead view game instead of a side-scroller, and exploration takes place across a wide and deep landscape instead of in a series of cross-sectioned tunnels like a huge art farm.  The player guides an elf boy, Link, who gets his clothes by way of Pan of Neverland, through a large overworld, divided into 128 screens.  Most of the screens have challenging monsters who try to kill Link.  Scattered throughout this overworld are nine dungeons, also divided into screens, and containing even more challenging monsters.  In each dungeon is at least one item, which allow Link to increase his combat ability and exploration power.  Some important places in both the overworld and underworld cannot be reached until the necessary items have been obtained.  Also in the overworld are shops, where some additional items can be bought.  A very few items are just given to Link outright, though he may have to prove himself first.

Also in each dungeon is at least one boss, and one of the bosses in each guards a "Triforce piece."  The ultimate object of the game is to get eight Triforce pieces, which unlocks the way into the ninth and last dungeon.  In there is Ganon, the hardest boss, who guards Princess Zelda, the aim of your quest.  Defeating a dungeon's boss also awards Link a heart container, extending his maximum health by one unit.  A few heart containers can also be found in secret places in the overworld.  So, in a manner somewhat similar to Brogue, player character improvement comes from finding items instead of gaining experience points, and you don't always have to slaughter and slay to get them.  But unlike roguelikes in general, Zelda is a real-time, action game.  In fact, it's action is pretty sharp.  There are enemies (especially the so-called Darknuts and Wizzrobes) that will kill Link pretty easily no matter how strong he's become if his player isn't skilled at attacking and dodging.

The Game That Defined Nintendo Hard
When The Legend of Zelda came out, it was kind of a sensation.  Both Sega and Hudson Soft produced thinly-veiled clones of it, for the Sega Master System (Golden Axe Warrior) and PC-Engine/Turbografx 16 (Neutopia), and Compile's Golvellius, also for the SMS, has some pretty strong similarities too.  If you unfocus your eyes a bit a whole genre of Zelda-likes from around the time can be recognized, containing games ranging from Legend of Valkyrie, Crystalis, Faria, StarTropics, SoulBlazer and many more.  And of course the Zelda series itself continues to this day.

The weird thing about a game this so copied, however, is how obscure it is.  Not in the sense of being unknown, certainly not that, but in the sense of being unclear.  To modern tastes it seems undirected.  You spend a lot of time in the early going of The Legend of Zelda roaming around just looking for things.  Most of those clones I mentioned split the overworld up into smaller regions to help narrow down and direct your exploration, but The Legend of Zelda's Land of Hyrule is one humongous, homogeneous world, and you can explore 98.5% of it from the start.  Although the eight dungeons you have to find are numbered, they are not strongly ordered.  Some can be done out of order, and the only clue besides the number that one dungeon follows the other is just that, a literal clue, a cryptic message in each dungeon giving a vague area to look in for the next.  Players are just as likely to find dungeons by wandering around and looking than by going to a specified place.

This is not a good room to find with three hearts.

And finding things just by roaming the map casually is difficult, because Zelda's enemies are not trivial to overcome.  Even the weakest ones can do a number of poor Link at the start of the game, when it only takes six hits to kill him.  The original LoZ doesn't use item-based gates to ward the player from advanced areas, but enemy difficulty: if you're in an area where the enemies make you sweat, you probably shouldn't be there yet.  One class of enemy, called "Lynels" in the manual, very frequently shoot swords that do two-thirds of Link's starting health in damage in one hit, and the mountain areas that hide several later dungeons are infested with them.  Large-scale sequence breaking in Zelda is possible but requires nerves of steel, and even advanced players often leave those areas for when they've gained some power.

There is a strong sense in Zelda of being dropped in a world and told to sink or swim.  And many players sink, and sink often, and some eventually give up.  There is a tendency, among some players, to lament the weak spine of current players.  Truthfully, I am kind of like that, but when I think about it I waver in my confidence.  No one is naturally good at these kinds of games; some skills can only be acquired through practice, and I've had lots of practice.  Instead of pointing at a losing player, laughing and saying GIT GUD, I try to say: oh, you died.  Ah well, try again? 

The problem here is fear of failure, that is, thinking that lack of success at a game is a judgment against the player, and that dying just means you suck.  These players don't suck.  This happens to everyone.  I'm better than most, but what skill I have comes from practice, and even so, still, sometimes I'm awful!  And compared to roguelikes, LoZ is pretty darn forgiving: when you die you don't lose any items or money, and if you're in a dungeon you just get put back at its entrance.  The worst that happens to the player is that he comes back without much health in his meter, which can be frustrating later on, but the game gives players ways to remedy even this.

Now, about this Randomizer thingy

Some of the things that Zelda Randomizer can do:
  • Move around the contents of caves in the overworld.  The cave that contained a Heart Container may contain money, a shop, a text message, or other things.  It may even be a Door Repair Charge.  Since dungeons, where are hidden both essential items and the Triforce pieces that are the primary objects of your quest, are moved around too, you will have to do a lot of searching to find them.  The Randomizer can even be set to leave its own cryptic hints as to dungeon locations!
  • Move the enemies around in the overworld.  The same general enemy groups are in the game, but their locations are mixed up among all the regions.  The dangerous “Lynels,” the sword-throwing centaurs from the mountains, can make appearances in other places, and must be dealt with carefully if encountered early.
  • Move the rooms around each dungeon.  While each dungeon keeps its original shape, the rooms and internal layout of each dungeon are remixed.
  • It can use the game’s Second Quest (a long story) as a resource to take further dungeon layouts and enemy groups from.
  • It can even be used to construct challenge games, that take the ubiquitous Wooden Sword you’re ordinary given at the start of the game and hide it somewhere randomly around the world map, or even put it in the room before the final boss (the only enemy in the game that requires a sword to defeat it).

Under some, most or all of these, and other, mixing operations, playing through Zelda regains some portion of the wonder that it had back when people first explored the land of Hyrule, back in 1986.  More recent gamers may not understand what playing a game like the original NES Legend of Zelda was like in the days of its original release.  It was rather a deeper and more complex adventure than most were used to at that time, so hidden was its secrets.  While nothing essential is hidden without some clue of its presence (usually an old man or woman to cryptically pointing you towards it), the games produced by Zelda Randomizer expect the player to know where all the secrets are already.  Everything hidden by the Randomizer is where something had been hidden before, but when there's only around ninety such places to look, that's not as much help as it might be!

Random Zelda can be really random.  I found a Triforce piece in the third room of this dungeon!

So, Zelda Randomizer’s output is mostly an additional challenge for diehards.  Speedrunners are interested in this because it brings an aspect of the original game, the element of discovery and exploration, into play in a realm where those things are usually long vanished.  People who play games over and over to improve their times come to know their prey very well.  There is usually no aspect of them too obscure to be known.  Randomization returns to play some of that aspect of mystery.

Zelda Randomizer was inspired by an earlier tool, a ROM randomizer for Super Metroid, which also somewhat interesting.  But Zelda is an unusually resilient game when scrambled.  Since most enemies can be defeated in multiple ways, yet are still usually vulnerable to swords, the strategic implications of there being, say, the Bow, the Wand, the Red Candle or even just a lot of Bombs going forward from there are great.  Also, one of the problems with randomizing a game like this are keys, which usually requires a complex algorithm to make sure the player always has enough to open all the locked doors he finds.  All later Zelda games would require such an algorithm.  The original Zelda, however, contains more keys than are needed to win the game, and has an item that eventually makes all other keys obsolete.  Even when you're using normal keys, they aren't even dungeon-specific! They can be taken from site to site and used wherever.  You can even buy keys in stores; they are expensive, but available to help the frustrated player.

That is not to say that Zelda Randomizer doesn’t take steps to ensure the game is winnable.  A number of items (specifically, the Bow, Ladder, Raft, Recorder and sometimes the Power Bracelet) must be found during play, and the program must ensure whatever result has a solution.  It’s just that not stressing out about the location of keys makes the job of randomization easier.

But this article isn't just about the joys of randomizing a beloved game into a new experience.  Because strangely, The Legend of Zelda takes to being mixed up very well.

Random Zelda Is HARD, But Strangely Fair

Zelda's overworld was meant for getting lost in, and part of the strange joy of the game is getting lost and yet kind of getting rewarded for it anyway.  The game's secrets are set up in such a way that the player will probably find one or two accidentally during the game.  Bombs that break open secret cave are also one of the strongest weapons against monsters, the flames from candles both damage foes and burn trees, and once you discover you can push certain statues it's only a matter of time before every statue in the game has felt Link's sweaty grip.

In a properly randomized game though it's not just the secrets that have been moved around, but the monsters: you might have to spend this game tiptoeing around Lynels in central Hyrule!  And the rooms in the dungeons, and the locked doors and the keys that go to them: since keys can be bought in shops in the original LoZ, the game doesn't need to make sure you can fully explore every dungeon without buying them.  And the required items, and the shops that sell some of those items.

Only seven or so of Zelda's many items absolutely must be found to win, but certain items make the process much easier.  For instance, one of the game's many secret areas hides a guy who will give Link a letter that, if shown to the old women who hide in some of the caves, will cause them to offer to sell Medicine to Link, that will fill up all his health whenever he wants up to twice.  Finding the Letter is crucial to having a good game, but there is only one in the entire world, and the player may never find it.  It's not needed, but it's greatly desired.

Well well, what do we have here!

Another example.  Only one of the shops in the game sells an item called the Blue Ring, which cuts all the damage Link takes in half.  Again, you don't need it, but you'll be glad if you find it.  Also, in five locations in the overworld there are hidden heart containers, permanent health extensions.  You don't need any of them, but you'll want all of them.  And there are enough of these really nice bonuses to find that you'll probably find a few of these helps regardless.  They will likely not be found in the same order as the original game, but that just compounds how different the game feels when you find strange and useful things like the Recorder or the Wand in the first dungeon, or even outside of it.

The aspect here that connects this back to roguelikes is the tension between two opposed qualities, emphasizing the consequences of a player's decisions balanced with keeping those consequences balanced.

Most rooms in the original Legend of Zelda are difficult, but not impossible, to clear with three hearts and a Wooden Sword.  I've cleared rooms of Blue Darknuts with that before.  That is the outer edge of its difficulty; 99% of its rooms can be handled this way, but even skilled players would find such a run to be tiring, if they were about to do it at all.  Because of that, even if a randomized game put the player into a situation where his starting location was surrounded by Lynels, he still has a chance of breaking out of it.  The ultimate fairness of Zelda's gameplay is insurance, here, against malicious whims of the dice.

But the game also doesn't hand anything to the player on a plate.  The player still must search for items and dungeons, some of which may be hidden in incredibly obscure places, and while it's possible for all a dungeon's best things to be placed close to the entrance of each labyrinth, practically, the law of averages limits the likelihood of that occurring.  The possibility that a required mobility item (something that gives the player an ability that lets him cross formerly-impassible routes) may be hidden behind a barrier that requires it is there, but that's where the Randomizer tool comes in, giving the resulting game a solvability check and rerolling it repeatedly until it passes.

The conceptual field of probability into which Zelda Randomizer casts its dice is rich enough that the situations produced are interesting even after many attempts, challenging but different, but generally not individually overwhelming so much that the player has no way to proceed.

It takes something like the Zelda Randomizer to demonstrate how meticulously the game is instructed, really.  You only need a scant few items to complete the game, but it's challenging enough that you still want everything you can get, and yet unlike in your more traditional games, skill and practice open the door to advanced play much more readily than grinding.  If that doesn't feel essentially roguelike to you then I don't know what to tell you.

You will come to hate this guy.

If this sounds more fun to watch than necessarily to play, you're in luck!  The website Speed Runs Live hosts frequent races between players playing with the same seed and flags for your spectating enjoyment!  Also somewhat along these lines is Speedrun Bingo, available for many games.  Game randomization tools are an exciting frontier in the romhacking community — there also exist randomizers for Super Metroid, Zelda II and Dragon Quest. 

Update: next column, StoryBundle results

Still working on the Quarries of Scred column.  It's an interesting game and I don't think I understand all of the elements in it yet.  I might post something else from the book in the meantime.  I'm also waiting to put up a fairly large interview with the Digital Eel guys, makers of the several wonderful Strange Adventures in Infinite Space games.  There's a fairly ridiculous article on those in the book by the way....

The StoryBundle succeeded very well, from what I told.  A total of $2592 was raised for the Prisoners Literature Project.  The bundle sold above-average for StoryBundle, I'm told.  The @Play book can still be purchased by itself from Amazon and

I'm working towards getting it up in more places, but it turns out you can only direct-publish on Apple's iBooks if you have a recent Mac (Mavericks or later), or go through an aggregator!  And Google's Play bookstore is temporarily not accepting new submissions.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

@Play 83: HyperRogue

This article is one of the new pieces from the book @Play: Exploring Roguelike Games.  Another article from it, on Zelda Randomizer, is due to go up shortly on Kotaku.  The book is available as part of the current Mega Game Bundle, on StoryBundle.

One of the most interesting roguelikes to come around lately, a game that is obviously close to the lineage (down to having "Rogue" in the title) and yet brings new clever and amazing ideas to the table is a little thing called HyperRogue. You can download some versions of it for free from creator Zeno Rogue's site, or you can download the newest version for just $3. It's also available on Steam, and for Android on the Google Play store, either free or paid.

HyperRogue (in one of its weirder locations)

Lessons in Non-Euclidean Travel

At first it seems like a fairly simple game, and at the beginning it kind of is, but the difficulty ramps up wonderfully smooth. The most immediately interesting thing about HyperRogue is that your guy, lost in a weirdly geometric world surrounded by spaces and thick, clumpy, apparently-irregular walls, has only one hit point: if you take even a single hit from any source, you immediately lose. Fortunately, most enemies are likewise restricted, so the result to the gameplay is that you have to get the first hit on any enemy or you immediately lose the game. If you manage to strike first, although you use up your turn doing it, you'll always kill the foe; there is no miss chance in combat. There are exceptions to this rule (some very interesting!), but those're the basics.

One consequence of this is that Zeno Rogue has moved the strategy window (see the article elsewhere "Interface Aids and the Strategy Window") up a little, and the game won't even allow you to make moves that result in immediate death. Effectively it works like "check" does in chess. The game will simply ignore moves that would be fatal on the next turn, explaining its refusal with a warning message. To drag out another previous coinage, it guards against immediate critical moments.  It doesn't prevent you from making moves that might result in certain death more than one turn in the future. You still have to be on the lookout for those, although they are rarer.

The one hit point limitation forces you to adopt some interesting tactics to survive. If you are hemmed in by walls and have an adjacent enemy, the only move you can make is to attack it. In the same situation, if the enemy is one space away the only thing you can do is pass a turn and let it approach you. For the most part your opponents only act to approach and attack you, which helps the player to anticipate trouble spots and plan ahead to escape them. There is no experience system in HyperRogue, so for the most part you're better off avoiding enemies if you can, although sometimes it's good to turn around and confront a horde of pursuers in a controlled fashion rather than let them corner you in a dead-end.

If two enemies are adjacent to you, you cannot attack either of them because his friend would attack and kill you. In that case you must flee, and if you have nowhere to flee to the game ends immediately, and suddenly. Your rogue has effectively been checkmated, and the game doesn't even let you make a move in that case. So the basis of combat strategy is to get enemies to line up so you only face one at a time. Even if you are facing 20 enemies in a row, so long as you kill each one as it approaches you, you'll survive. But if even one additional enemy comes in and doesn't queue up with the others you'll have to flee, and if an enemy approaches from behind, so there's an enemy in both directions and you can't escape both in on turn, then it's all over.  Most dangerous is when enemies approach from the same distance in opposite directions; you're better off approaching one of them at an angle before they get too close.

(The one hit point model of roguelike design was described in greater detail, making these points and more, in an excellent presentation given at IRDC 2012 by prolific roguelike designer Darren Grey, which can be watched on YouTube here then here.)

Most enemies behave this way. Some are slower than others, but they usually have some visual indication that they're about to move. A few enemies cannot be killed immediately through melee, but your attacks stun them, and often after a certain number of stuns it'll be finished off for good.  Other enemies are completely invulnerable unless defeated through special means.

Ice Caves

Your Passport Is Printed on a Mobius Strip
At the start of each of the game's "lands," which are like dungeon branches, enemies are very low in number. So when you enter a new zone, you probably won't have to worry much, and can easily take out the single foe that harasses you occasionally. Throughout each land you'll randomly find treasures. Treasures don't give you abilities themselves, but each land has a different type. Nearly all the treasures in all the lands are worth just one point towards your score (the game scores very low), but collecting treasure opens up the way to more advanced areas. At the start there are only a few lands you can visit, but once you get a total of 30 points a new set of lands becomes available to find in addition to the ones you started in. At 60 and 90 yet more lands open up. There are over 30 lands in all, but some of the last ones have special requirements for entry, like having killed a minimum number of foes.

The thing about collecting treasures is that collecting them is what increases the enemy encounter rate. Every treasure you get in a land increases the frequency with which monsters are generated, but only in that land.

The minimum to enter Hell, where the primary objective the Orb of Yendor is kept (there's that name again), you have to have gotten 10 treasures from each of nine lands.  It doesn't matter which lands, so the easiest way to go about it is to get 10 treasures from the easier regions, then vamoose, exploring wildly until you find a Great Wall that signals a border into a different zone.  Of course, collecting more treasures than that helps your score, and as a special bonus, once you get 10 treasures of a type, a particular type of orb starts generating in that land.

Each land has its own kind of orbs that give you special temporary powers if collected.  If you get all the way up to 25 treasures you can unlock those orbs to appear in some other lands too, which can help you out in tight spots later... but by the time you get to 25 points from a single land, you'll be harassed by foes frequently.  It's the age-old decision, you can play more daringly now to make the later game easier, or you can get by with the bare minimum and take your chances in the end-game.  Neither decision is necessarily better than the other.

There Are No Snake Enemies On the Hyperbolic Plane (okay, there's one)
The one hit point system is interesting, but there's another, even cooler, aspect about HyperRogue.  It doesn't take place in a "Cartesian" space, but on a kind of geometric construct called a hyperbolic plane.  Like Jeff Lait's amazing, brain-bending 7DRL game Jacob's Matrix, HyperRogue takes place in a "non-Euclidean" space, which has strange properties.  For one thing, "parallel lines," which on an ordinary place stay the same distance from each other forever regardless of how far you go, actually diverge in HyperRogue.  Take for example those "Great Walls" between lands that you see frequently in special zones like the Crossroads, like here:

The Crossroads (version 1)

The red spaces in the above screenshot are the Crossroads land, which connects many other lands.  The orange star spaces are pieces of the Great Walls, and the colored regions they border are the other lands.  The weird thing is, although they look curved, all the Great Walls are straight lines in the game's topology, a fact that gets more obvious the closer you get to crossing over into a new land.  Although they're not parallel, they never intersect with the other walls, but actually diverge from them as they go on instead of eventually crossing at some point.

It's a strange place, and a little confusing.  You can't see it in these images, but as you move through adjoining spaces the world in the direction you're traveling sort of broadens, appearing to distort around you, and the area behind you sort of shrinks.  The effect is most visible near the horizon.  The bizarre topography of the hyperbolic plane makes it very difficult to return to places you've already explored and have passed out of sight unless you closely retrace your steps.  Try watching some landmark while walking around in a circle; you'll find that your view rotates as you turn.  You tend to keep missing places to try to go back to unless they're still in vision range.  Fortunately, there's an infinite number of lands and of all things in those lands, or else you might end up searching a long time to get back to an essential place you had once been.

Other consequences of the hyperbolic plane are that circles are much larger than you might expect.  There are other interesting shapes, and consequences of those shapes, too.  Zeno Rogue posted on his site an excellent light math description of some of the shapes that can be encountered, written by Fulgur14, many of which serve as the basis of terrain generation in the advanced lands.

To Show Your Vacation Slides You'll Have to Use a Poincaré Projector
The soul of HyperRogue are the many varied and intriguing lands there are to find and explore.  Each land has its own kind of treasure to collect, and tracks your best score even for that area.

Here are a selection of the earlier lands and their rules, to give you a taste for what's to come.  If you're ever confused as to what rules are in effect in a given region, you can get reminded in-game by pressing V (to go to the menu), then O (to go to the world overview screen), then clicking on one of the region names on the left side of the screen.

Icy Land: This is always your starting area.  Nearby walls will melt away from your body heat if you stand close to them for too long.  The Bonfires you find here can be activated, which will both melt close walls and attract some of your enemies.

Crossroads: There are three different versions of this land, which can be distinguished from each other by the ground color.  Most areas are bordered by one of the three types of Crossroads. As I said before, the walls here separating other areas from you are actually straight lines: they just appear curved due to hyperbolic geometry.


Jungle: This place is full of vines that grow and grow out from a central point.  The center of each plant is cyan; the vines growing out from it are green.  Each vine surrounding a plant takes turns growing, each one space at a time, clockwise around the plant.  A vine turns yellow the turn before it moves, and is dangerous when it does so.  However, you can prune a vine back by attacking it.  If you manage to hack your way to and destroy the center, all its vines die at once and you get a ruby as a reward.

Land of Eternal Motion: You can't rest! Every turn must move to another spot, and every space you move from falls away into the void. All your enemies here do the same thing.  Since enemies cannot follow directly behind you, they must adopt a parallel course to follow, and as we learned earlier parallel lines diverge on a hyperbolic plane, so it's relatively easy to leave pursuers in the dust here.  The only problem is that new chasers will get generated over the horizon in front of you, so you're constantly having to steer away from them too.

Living Cave: The walls in this area grow and shrink according to cellular automation rules.  Collectible treasures push close-by walls back until picked up, and the corpses of killed Rock Troll enemies in this zone will tend to draw nearby walls in to "bury" it within their surface.  If you get entombed in rock your automatically lose!


Minefield: Not all the areas you explore rely on special properties of hyperbolic planes.  This entertaining zone is full of invisible mines you must avoid, natch, by playing minesweeper.  The number of mines on adjacent spaces is clued by messages and colored dots: blue dots are adjacent to one mine, green dots to two, and red to three.  Ground enemies lured in from other lands can set mines off too, but that can be a bad thing: exploded mines erupt in spaces of permanent fire, and if you get surrounded by impassible walls you immediately lose.  Because the spaces you pass through are marked as you travel, it's easier to retrace your steps in this land than most others.  The enemies here, "bombirds," are rare but create new mines when killed!

Mirror Land: There are lots of mirrors here, which double as the treasures you collect.  If you break one by running into it, allies that move relative to your movements appear around you, and help you fight approaching attackers.  Your helpers tend to be fragile, but are of so much help that this seems to be one of the easier lands.

Alchemist's Lab: All the ground is either red or blue. If you're on blue ground, you can only move to another blue ground spot, and vice versa. Colored slime enemies appear, moving on and matching one of the colors. When a slime is killed, it makes a big splat that overwrites the other color around it, including the spot you're standing on.

Desert: Here are sandworms that slowly (every other turn) grow bigger over time, and can only be killed by trapping their head so they can't grow further.


Zebra: The terrain in this whimsical area looks very much like a zebra's stripes.  You can step on the light stripes okay, but the black stripes will crumble beneath your feet like in the Land of Eternal Motion.

Ivory Tower: This clever area has "gravity."  When you enter, the camera rotates to pick the direction of the Great Wall you entered from as "down."  The way the game's description describes it, there are "stable" and "unstable" spaces.  Stable spaces have walls beneath them, or are "platform" spaces.  You can go any adjacent space from a stable space, but unstable spaces you can only leave by going in a "down" direction, unless it's to a stable space.  Depending on how you move, gravity can change direction. Moving up from stable into unstable spaces feels kind of like "jumping," like in a platformer, and going from unstable to stable spaces above you is like grabbing hold of a ledge.  Because your movements are unusually limited here, be careful around enemy gargoyles.  It's easy to get caught in inescapable situations.

Further reading:
HyperRogue's website. Also from that site, the game's FAQ, and a light math description of some of the shapes that can be encountered. Creator Zeno Rogue has a blog, a list of other projects, and is on Twitter.

(Edit 2/13/2016: Corrections sent in by HyperRogue's creator, Zeno.  One was the spelling of Darren Grey's name.  Oops!  Thanks, guy!)

The book is out! "@Play: Exploring Roguelike Games"

One of the reasons @Play has been slow lately is because I've been focusing my efforts on a ebook compilation of columns, with a few new pieces as well and a couple of extras thrown in too....

It includes....

  • Eight new pieces, including articles on HyperRogue, Out There, Zelda Randomizer, and others.
  • A new playthrough story concerning the adventures of Captain Squeakytoy, overly fearless star captain, through the Purple Void of Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space!
  • Articles on Rogue, NetHack, Dungeon Crawl, ADOM, Larn, SuperRogue, XRogue and Shiren the Wanderer, including the entire epic playthrough of the Super Famicom Shiren, one of the most popular columns.
  • 498 pages (according to Word) of roguelike introductions, reviews, interviews, essays, trivia and more.
At the moment it's an exclusive in the current gaming StoryBundle Mega Game Bundle as one of the bonus items ($12 minimum), but after that closes it'll be going up on sale at and Amazon.

By the way!  Everything else in the bundle is at least awesome.  My poor book's got some frankly amazing company, like David Hellman and Tevis Thompson's game criticism/adventure graphic novel Second Quest, the always excellent Hardcore Gaming 101's book of Strider and Bionic Commando, The Kobold Guide To Board Game Design, Matthew Kumar's Exp. Negativs, Videogames For Humans, Boss Fight Book's epic investigation into the impact of Shadow of the Colossus... oh, and a little thing called The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, Volumes 1 and 2.  I'm a huge geek about obscure games and gaming, and that one sounds like a real treasure trove.

I hope I don't sound too publicity-minded when I suggest that it's an excellent way to get a lot of wonderful, what's the word?  "Content?"  Yeah, I hate calling things "content."  It's so generic.  Everyone worked so hard on their items in this bundle.  This is blood and sweat we're talking about here, in electronic form.  I hope you enjoy them.

Tomorrow I'm going to post one of the new articles here and on the Gamasutra blog as the next @Play.  I think the article after that one will be an entirely new piece on Quarries of Scred.  Then, hopefully, it'll be business as usual.  See you then.