20 June 2012

Thoughts on Pixels: Getting into Roguelikes, part 1

The other day I realized that I have become quite the avid player of games that could be largely classified as roguelikes. Join me in this two-post essay on how my descent into the depths of low-graphic/high-complexity/high-lethality gaming happened and how you can do it too. It's not as hard as one might think...

It's hard to say at what point I became interested in roguelike games. Some consider Diablo to be a roguelike and I played the first one back in '97 or whenever it came out. Anyhow, the first more recent roguelike I played with intensity was, after a short and rather unsuccessful stint with Elite 2 the roguelike shooter Transcendence, about which I have already written some words here. Some might argue that a top-down shooter isn't really a roguelike but I beg to differ: The procedurally generated world, the random loot, the high difficulty and the customization of your character (or ship) via equipment and enchantments (barrels filled with X) are all there. It's also a good starter but that's going to be topic of the next post. As will be Spelunky and Desktop Dungeons.

Anyways, exploring the world of Transcendence soon wasn't enough. I had heard about the roguelikes, even tried Nethack on my cellphone, being rather put off by the steep difficulty (or random cruelness) and the horrid control scheme. Roguelikes seemed rather scary in their lack of visuals and their steep learning curve when it came to gameplay features. That lessened when I watched the let's plays of Rogue Survivor by Plumphelmetpunk on Youtube. I wanted to live through stories like these too.

So I did it. I installed Rogue Survivor (written about in several posts on this blog before) and started learning those controls. I was amazed. My little characters found themselves in a complicated and murderous world where they had SO MANY options of what to do for survival. Foraging, barricading, running, hiding, stealing, murdering, cowering and even finding friends to help me out were all options. Once the basic controls were learned, it was grand. This became my stepping stone for the next one, an order more complicated to play and two orders more complicated to play with any sort of success: Prospector (written about in this post). Prospector had a theme I really liked, space exploration being something I've dreamt of even as a little kid but the punishing difficulty (if one can call it so - I'd estimate that about 3% of planets mean certain death upon landing there, plus the chance on any given planet to kill you without you standing a chance...) and complicated interface-options were something of a hindrance to me - I went back to Rogue Survivor for my roguelike-fix periodically (the results are the play-diaries found on this very website. The fact that you can play the game from a USB-stick is a big plus for me too).

Then, a few weeks ago, I was once more watching Plumps Youtube channel and decided to give the most complex of them all a try: Dwarf Fortress. I read a beginners tutorial whilst playing through the first steps, learning as I went. I am now positively into the deepest RL-pits, with ASCII-graphics and a gameplay-depth that simulates individual organs on randomized creatures... More on how you can do that too in the next post, I guess.

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