24 June 2012

Getting into Roguelikes: Transcendence

In the last post I wrote about my descent into the deeper pits of roguelike gaming. This time around, I shall help you follow me if you dare, introducing some more mainstreamish roguelikes and how to get started in them, hopefully providing an entry-drug for you future RL-addicts. I'll get into the more serious ones on the next post, so stay tuned for that.

For the average gamer, starting a roguelike can be a harrowing experience. There may be more game mechanics than in your entire other gaming-library combined. There may be a total lack of graphical interface beyond Ascii-coded pseudo-graphics. And there is the incredible, sometimes impossible difficulty. You do not play a roguelike to win, you play it to experience it. In recent years, games, having become more and more mainstream and more and more casual, have become easier and easier, holding your hand all the way through and selling more power-fantasies as they go along. You won't find that in a roguelike. Be aware of these facts when you get started. So where do you start, as the average gamer with not too much patience when it comes to learning long lists of keyboard-commands and interpreting cryptic signs in lieu of nice animations? I'd recommend three radically different (and free) games to get a taste of things you may be getting into, when it comes to roguelikes, introducing one with each post in this series and explaining what to do on your first playthrough. Next up after that we'll delve a bit deeper into the roguelike-dungeons but for now let's start with the more main-streamish. Here's the first one:


Like I said before and in the last post, Transcendence, which can be downloaded here (for the most recent versions, check the forum), is a space-shooter roguelike. As such, skill in playing replaces a lot of knowing what to do with what item common in other roguelikes. The controls are simple and to get started with the game you don't need to know about every aspect of the game-world and how it functions (I have played it for about half a year before seriously considering what goods to trade where and have only recently started to look into the rather enigmatic crafting-system hidden in the games stations). Also, it has (especially the more recent version 108b) nice graphics and a minimalistic but effective soundtrack. Transcendence is a shooty roguelike, where solar systems replace dungeon floors and stargates replace stairs. It is still in development but it does have something of an ending so as there is a definite goal to reach it can be a good starting-point for a novice RL-player.

So what do you do? You unzip the game and can directly run it from its folder (if you have a Windows-machine, that is. Anything XP and up will work fine). You then get to name your profile and chose your species and sex (human male/female are currently the only options) and then start a new game. There are three different ships to chose from and they radically differ in play-style: If you're good with 360°-2D-shooters, the Wolfen-gunship might be for you. It's fast, agile and packs a dual laser in its starting-configuration. If you aren't that good, the fast turning-rate might make it hard for you to aim with this one and you will constantly need to refuel it and return loot as it doesn't have much capacity for anything on board. The freighter is the direct opposite, slow and unwieldy but with lots of space for cargo and a powerful starting-reactor. As it starts out with a turret-mounted laser that will automatically aim at nearby enemies, it is a good ship for a bad pilot to start with and it can be upgraded heavily throughout the game but do not expect to fly fancy dodging-maneuvers with it. The median between these two extremes is the Sapphire-class spaceyacht, my personal ride of choice, although it starts with only a weak front-mounted recoilless-gun. I suggest you start with whatever feels best for you but consider that the Wolfen will need constant refueling in the beginning, which can gnaw at your meager starting-budget. I'll assume you're using a Sapphire for this little beginners guide.

You start the game in the Eridani System, at a station of the Sisters of Domina, a cult devoted to worshiping a hyper intelligent entity in the galactic core. You steer your ship with the arrow-keys (and can, as there is frictionless motion, take your finger off the accelerator once you're at speed. Save fuel, where you can) and fire with the space-bar. Other important functions of your ship are [m] for a map of the current solar system, [.] for breaking, [t] for targeting enemies (after you have targeting installed), [d] for docking with stations and wrecked ships, [g] for traveling through stargates, [b] for enabling or deactivating systems of your ship, [u] for using items and [s] for your ship options. All of these are also explained in-game so don't worry about learing them for now. You may now [d]ock with the Sisters of Domina station if you want to know more about your own quest. For now you need to know two things: The next stargate is near the sun of the planet and before you go through it you better have better equipment than what you have started with. And the key for that are missions and loot within this system. First of all, your radar will show you a bunch of stations nearby, gathered around a huge central one, which is Starton Eridani, a commonwealth-station. Fly around and get a feel for the handling of your ship. Do not shoot at friendly stations or ships (green on your radar), as they will retaliate when provoked too much and that is not something you can/want to handle right now. Dock with the different stations to find out what they are. Look into their commodities-exchanges to see what items they have for sale. You won't be able to buy much at this point but we'll get there.

Before you leave this system you'll ideally have some or all of the following equipment. See what of it is for sale at the local stations. Notice that Biosoft-ROMs (which offer permanent upgrades to your ships systems or short-term boons) are of unknown content until you have tried one of them out. Once you have found out, for example, what Biosoft-ROM is a system map, you will know a system map when you see it. The same goes for armor-coatings, which you can try by applying on your armor. There are repair-kits to be found like this (think: Healthpack!), as well as coatings protecting your ship from specific types of damage. This can be used in conjunction with strength your armor may already have to make you practically invincible to certain weapons or to make your defenses more well-rounded. As they can only be applyed once per armor-section, it is recommended that you try out armor-coatings on some cheap-armor like the one you started with, before using them on something expensive. Now, before you leave Eridani, you ideally have the targeting-program installed (even without a turret it is good to know how much health the enemy has left and it also works with guided missiles), a NAMI-missile-launcher as a secondary weapon, some better armor than what you started with, a class-II deflector shield (or an upgraded class-I) and either a fast-fire laser or maybe a dual recoilless, as well as a 25MW-reactor and ideally some way to recharge your fuel without buying any (either a solar panel array or a segment of solar armor). Out of all of these, only the 25MW-reactor is guaranteed to be available in the system at the commonwealth dry-dock (upgrade reactor). Everything else is optional and maybe you won't be able to afford it anyways. I highly recommend to see if you can get a solar-module installed ASAP because that will free you from needing fuel (and you can sell looted fuel-rods) for a long time (just go on top of the sun - you cannot collide with celestial bodies in this game and it protects you from enemy fire - turn off your shield and hit the [a]utopilot to make the time pass faster to recharge your fuel). Your first stop is one of the stations at the edge of the cluster, no not the container-slum but one of the habitats next to it. Dock and go into the meeting hall and they should hook you up with your fist combat-mission: Kill a centauri-warlord camp for some spare credits.

Unless you have the bad luck of encountering a heavy raider there, this won't be too hard. The centauri are notoriously fragile opponents and their weapons won't penetrate your shield. Don't be too close to the station when it blows up, fragments may do more damage to your ship. Dock with the wreckage and loot anything you find (broken weapons can be sold a an arms-dealer, centauri-rice is valuable to corporate enclaves - gather more of that before selling in order to maximize your profit as the price will go down with each sell of the same item to the same station). Go back to the station you got the mission from and turn it in to receive your pay. Should there be a heavy raider present, flee back and lure it into the defenses of the central commonwealth-station, which will deal with it for you. Next up, check your map and have a look. There are two swarms of asteroids, one of them has Raisu station in it, the other doesn't. Ignore Raisu for now (a green dot surrounded by red dots on your radar) and fly through all other bodies in the system. There will be other centauri camps to be destroyed and looted, as well as possibly some pirate-stations (which are harder to hit but also fragile). Kill all that is red on your radar and loot their wreckage. Fly around in the outer asteroid-belt once but should you see a single red station on your radar, with a single ship circling it, AVOID it for now as that is the systems boss and you're not yet equipped to deal with him. After having killed and looted a lot (fly back to the cluster of stations to sell the stuff if you're full), get whatever you think is necessary and affordable for your ship and then go to liberate Raisu station. If you have killed enough centauri stations, the station master there will talk to you once you have destroyed the centauri who were laying siege to the station. She'll hook you up with the coordinates to the habitat of Arco Vaughn, Centauri Leader, and a disposable missile rack, which you can install on your ship without the aid of a station (by pressing [u]).

Now go towards the point indicated and fight Arco Vaughn. If you still field your original shield, this may get tough. Try to get close to him and pelt him with missiles. Remember that they lock on to the nearest target so do not waste them on his habitat yet. If you manage to kill him, destroy his hab' and loot both his heavy raider and the smashed station. If he has a set of four barrels of unknown compounds on him, these are centauri nanos, which give a very high protection against laser and kinetic, the most common attacks in the early game, making them quite useful. You may return to Raisu station to get a hug for your efforts. Then fly to any mining stations in the system and ask them for work. They usually have some things for you to do, rescuing miners from centauri or killing illegal miners for cash. Once you have done everything you can in the system, it's time to sell the rest of your loot, upgrade your ship where possible and proceed to the next system via the stargate. Congratulations, you have just started your adventure looking to reach the galactic core!

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