25 July 2013

Making a Roguelike: More Design Ideas

Let's talk about some more things we're implementing in our roguelike. Once again, I won't talk about the interface system yet but the mechanics of a good roguelike don't need much of that anyway, do they?

A lot of roguelikes require you to eat in order to survive. The classics, like Nethack do that, Rogue Survivor always puts you against the clock by having starvation threaten and force you out of hiding, one could even argue that a space-shooter roguelike like Transcendence does the same by having your ship consume fuel. The threat of starvation is a good gameplay mechanic to prevent the player from standing still too much if food is a limited resource. In our game, you die of dehydration, which is another name for the mechanic that I though was a little more realistic about what kills you first. If the game was more survival-based I'd probably have planned a hypothermia-feature as well but as it stands, the only two things in the game that kill you are lack of water and monsters.

You find sources of water in the cave. Statistically there should be some on every floor although statistics can lie and in our monster-less test-build there have been cases of death by dehydration. All the better, in a roguelike, sometimes the dice are just against you. Now on a somewhat lucky run, the finished game should take about 20 to 30 minutes to play through if everything goes well and you know what you're doing. If there are sources of water though, you could in theory just camp there. What do I as the designer do against that?

Well the first thing I do against that is what a lot of roguelikes do: Spawn more monsters. As I dislike the concept of a monster coming out of a dead-end room you've just been in, the new monsters always spawn in the room with a passage upwards. As the game has you descent to find an exit (following the flow of water, because the hole you fell into is too high up to reach), monsters will come following you from where you came from. So if you kill all monsters on a floor (not an easy task, I have said before, I like difficulty in my games), wait long enough and the next monster will arrive. The monsters arriving from above are always seekers - they hunt you down specifically. Now upon finding, say, a subterranean river as a source of water, a shield, and a sword to fight with, you could in theory camp out and farm these creatures. That is fine as well as risky, at least on the later levels you will probably lose health faster than you regenerate it that way.

Now with the two threats to the player, dehydration and monsters, it might surprise that the monsters are threatened as well. Not just by the player who, if they keep finding equipment and leveling up with experience, is slightly stronger than most individual monsters, but also by each other (some monsters are enemies with each other, others aren't) and the environment (the player may utilize features of the cave to their advantage, like pushing a smaller beast into a chasm). The advantage they have is that they do not need to drink, as that would make the game a little too easy and would also ruin the idea that somewhere behind the fiction is a functioning eco-system of the cave when you're just wading through dried-out corpses.

Combat in our game is going to be swift and brutal. The player character starts with three health points and can dish out up to two damage in a single attack, although most attacks won't do damage at all at this level. In pen & paper as well as computer games I dislike systems that rely on triple-digit numbers when it comes to stats like health so this is a simple solution. A wound is either significant or it isn't and any number of papercuts won't kill you.

Going against the Berlin-interpretation (because screw it), the player cannot see their exact health and thirst level. You get a message when you're wounded telling you that you are hurt or that you are barely hanging on to life, depending on how much health you have left. You also get three different messages about a varying degree of thirst you may feel. In real life, it is hard to estimate how close you are to passing out from dehydration too so there's that. Also, I don't want the interface to be too cluttered, which is something that a lot of roguelikes tend to do. Similarly minimalistic is the inventory: You can carry on thing in each of your hands and one on your body, although you can upgrade the slots on your body by finding pouch-items.

I hope the game will be fun to play when it's done. I'll talk more about gameplay-mechanics and inspirations for those, when the time of a beta-release draws closer. Until then, other topics on this blog!

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