Saturday 31 January 2009

Unangband Edit Files: Part Three (Generosity)

(You'll probably want to start with part one and part two of this series)

Krice of Rogue Hut has pointed out that Thomas Biskup, author of Ancient Dungeons of Mystery is debating on the ADOM forums whether he should make the game open source. Krice summarises the advantages and disadvantages nicely, but I feel compelled to defend the "Angband effect" that Thomas criticises - the compulsion to create new variants of the existing game.

Angband has a host of variants (suggestions on a better collective noun to describe this are welcome). Everyone points to the source code clean up that Ben Harrison instigated in the late 90s as the primary reason for the large number; but in the Linux Gooey, I identified the process for creating an Angband variant as follows:

  1. Play the game, get frustrated with game design problems
  2. Realise you can edit the data files, cheat
  3. Edit the data files to include more monsters
  4. Ask or figure out how to compile code
  5. Release an Angband variant
  6. ????
Step one of this process is why there won't be another Angband variant released this year. Andi Sidwell is working towards resolving the game design issues that Angband has, which I believe is the primary motivating factor for creating an Angband variant.

Thomas should be more worried about source code access spoiling the game (step two). But in this day and age of Internet access, every game is effectively spoiled within weeks of its release. There are plenty of spoilers available for ADOM and I would argue you should design games to be enjoyable even if they are completely spoiled. The classic games (Chess, Go etc.) have a completely visible rule set and hundreds of books devoted to 'spoiling' the game by describing as many permutations of play as possible, but these games are still enjoyable.

I'm unsure whether ADOM is interesting enough to be playable even with complete spoilage. I don't believe ADOM will be forked 'significantly' in that the player base will be fragmented by multiple competing variants. What should happen, depending on how clean and supportable the code base is, is that the generosity of strangers will make ADOM stronger and more widely played: long standing obscure bugs fixed, more platforms supported, and a vibrant community maintained even without the day to day involvement of the designer. That has been my experience with Unangband and I don't expect ADOM to be any different.

But the "Angband Effect" is more than just a response to bad game design - Angband, in general is designed well, just with some rough edges. The most important reason Angband variants get released, as opposed to just being redesigned on the back of a napkin, is the ability of players to edit the game data, and especially, create new content without breaking the game.

The edit file structure is the key to allowing this. The "Attack of the Colon" design is a much lower bar than having to understand scripting, as you can just copy and paste, add and delete parts or whole and the game will continue to work (most of the time).

And data driven design has been key to the growth of Unangband.

(More to come in part four).

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Results for 'What trends will roguelikes see in 2009?'; new poll

Thanks to the 64 of you who voted.

More roguelike-likes
25 (39%)
In browser gaming
14 (21%)
Portable gaming
20 (31%)
More complexity
22 (34%)
More releases
15 (23%)
Less releases
7 (10%)
Less complexity
4 (6%)
Roguelike engines/libraries
19 (29%)
User generated content
20 (31%)
Move towards mainstream
5 (7%)
Remain niche market
33 (51%)
More commercial releases
5 (7%)
Less commercial releases
12 (18%)
Stuck in fantasy settings
11 (17%)
Explore other settings
25 (39%)

The new poll asks you how you started playing Angband.

Friday 23 January 2009


I attended the gaming mini-conference at this year and, as mentioned, presented a 25 minute seminar on a loosely associated stream of ideas around amateur game development and how this relates to roguelikes. I also sat on the game development panel and hopefully contributed some interesting comments: arguing especially for developing games in 2d to avoid the complexities of 3d.

Unfortunately, the gaming mini-conf (and Linux Chix in the same room the previous day) were deemed last on the list for video coverage, and when one camera failed to turn up, we missed out on getting any of the seminars on video. So you've missed out on me publicly betting $10 against Nick of FAAngband fame (who wasn't there, but I deemed a worthy challenger given his comments earlier herein) that there won't be any Angband variants released this year, in front of a slide explaining exactly why this won't be the case. There may be a digital photograph available later, although I've not seen anything on the official site.

Thanks to those people who took the time to talk to me on the day - my apologies for being a little distracted, but I also had a couple of customer visits to do in the afternoon so slipped out for a while.

The most interesting thing to come out of the gaming mini-conf was a presentation by Nic Suzor on the interaction of free software and copyleft with the legal system. Nic is in particular looking for examples of free software that works on home brew systems - ideally in an Australian context - due to the local legal pressure being put on home brew hardware suppliers by the likes of Nintendo. In order to push for legislative change, he needs to be able to show case studies where home brew has enabled software to be developed and released on a platform that would not otherwise have done so.

I spoke with him afterwards briefly, and suggested the recent GPL release of Angband, along with the local development involvement in the Nintendo DS port may be appropriate for him (Nick - drop me a line and I'll pass on his details).

Therein lies a bit of a problem. Angband is, for want of a better word, inspired by the copyrighted works of an English author whose estate, while not particularly litigenous, may not be especially eager to hear that the software derives a small portion of its content from these works. We have achieved a great deal by GPLing Angband, but I suspect that we may be tripping at the last hurdle, or at least ignoring the oncoming bus (to mix metaphors), by including work that could potentially infringe.

While the emphasis is on the word potentially, Nic did stress that a large part of this somewhat grey area of the law is sensible minimisation of risk. I would like to suggest that in this case a sensible minimisation of risk would be to develop an Angband variant that does not infringe on these works, and put that forward as the example Nic needs to help change the law locally. Such a variant, Freeband, would feature original fantasy content that justified the existance of a deep dungeon under a ramshackle township, with a progressive increase in risk towards an ultimate evil in the lowest depths.

The resulting gains would unfortunately be offset by a level of loyalty and fandom that the original material engenders. I think a sufficiently motivated cabal of individuals could overcome these problems, and create an equally mythically inspired world which people can invest their belief.


Monday 19 January 2009

A rebalanced list of weapons for Unangband

No wonder everyone in Angband starts out wielding daggers. They are freakishly good.

Values that have been modified are in red (I've also hand modified the table after the fact, so a couple of calculations may be out):


Description Dam/AC Wgt Lev Cost Info Average Damage Damage per wgt
Broken Dagger 1d1 0.5 0 1 1 2
Shovel 1d2 6 1 10 1.5 0.25
Gnomish Shovel 1d2 6 10 100 1.5 0.25
Broken Sword 1d2 3 0 2 1.5 0.5
Orcish Pick 1d3 18 15 300 2 0.111111111
Pick 1d3 15 5 50 2 0.133333333
Dwarven Shovel 1d3 12 20 200 2 0.166666667
Dart 1d3 1 0 10 2 2
Dwarven Pick 1d4 20 25 600 2.5 0.125
Whip 1d4 3 1 10 2.5 0.833333333
Dagger 1d4 1.2 0 15 2.5 2.083333333
Main Gauche 1d5 3 3 25 3 1
Javelin 1d6 5 5 36 3.5 0.7
Hatchet 1d6 4 3 30 3.5 0.875
Small Sword 1d6 3.5 5 48 3.5 1
Rapier 1d6 3 5 42 3.5 1.166666667
Spiked Club 1d7 13 1 10 4 0.307692308
Cutlass 1d7 5 5 35 4 0.8
Spear 1d7 7 0 30 4 0.571428571
Short Sword 1d7 4 5 60 4 1
Throwing Axe 2d3 2.5 30 80 4 1.6
Mattock 1d8 25 30 700 4.5 0.18
Awl-Pike 1d8 16 5 35 4.5 0.28125
Harpoon 1d8 6 5 120 4.5 0.75
Sabre 1d8 5 5 50 4.5 0.9
Ball-and-Chain 2d4 15 5 45 5 0.333333333
Quarterstaff 1d9 7.5 5 200 5 0.666666667
Mace 2d4 6 5 65 5 0.833333333
Throwing Hammer 2d4 3 40 125 5 1.666666667
Sacrificial Dagger 2d4 3.6 20 1000 5

Broad Sword 2d5 7.5 10 255 6 0.8
Long Sword 2d5 6.5 10 300 6 0.923076923
Glaive 2d6 19 15 363 7 0.368421053
Lucerne Hammer 3d4 12 5 180 7.5 0.625
Bastard Sword 3d4 9 10 350 7.5 0.833333333
Katana 3d4 6 20 400 7.5 1.25
War Hammer 4d3 9 10 225 8 0.888888889
Two-Handed Spear 2d8 20 10 230 9 0.45
Pike 3d5 16 10 120 9 0.5625
Broad Axe 3d5 12 10 304 9 0.75
Scimitar 3d5 10.5 10 250 9 0.857142857
Lead-Filled Mace 4d4 18 15 502 10 0.555555556
Trident 3d3 14 5 75 10

Scythe 5d3 12.5 15 400 10 0.8
Flail 2d9 12 15 353 10 0.833333333
Two-Handed Mace 4d4 12 15 450 10 0.833333333
Two-Handed Sword 3d6 12 20 775 10.5 0.875
Executioner's Sword 4d5 19.5 20 850 12 0.615384615
Halberd 4d5 19 20 430 12 0.631578947
Morning Star 6d3 15 20 396 12 0.8
Battle Axe 3d8 17 20 334 13.5 0.794117647
Great Axe 4d6 23 25 500 14 0.608695652
Beaked Axe 4d6 18 25 408 14 0.777777778
Two-Handed Flail 3d9 28 25 590 15 0.535714286
Executioner's Axe 4d8 25 25 750 18 0.72
Blade of Chaos 6d5 18 50 4000 18 1
Scythe of Slicing 8d4 25 45 3500 20 0.8
Mace of Disruption 5d8 40 55 8700 22.5 0.5625
Lance 3d8
33 25 460 18 0.818181818

Whisper for testers

For those of you following the Unangband SVN, the region code should now be stable enough to test with. In particular, the Druidic spells need some balancing. Create yourself a high level druid, and start casting stuff from the 4th book. Then get back to me with recommendations about damage, casting cost and so on. Also any obvious bugs or suggestions.

For those of you not, my silence is indicative of lots of coding.

Last chance to see

From the mini conference on gaming:

The Linux Gooey - An exploration of why Linux needs a Game Maker and the evolving language of games.

Games development for open source gives a skilled programmer a vast palette of possible tools with which to design games. But non-programmers are left out in the cold by the meritocracy of the open source development model, while the closed source commercial model has evolved to empower them through user content generation tools. How can we empower our users to contribute to the open source games: where do we need to set the skill bar, what languages should we choose, and how do we get them to make art?

The autobiographical perspective from a developer with over 10 years experience maintaining a complex open source games project.
9:30 - 9:55 (25 minutes) on Tuesday in Hobart if you're around...

Saturday 10 January 2009

The Movement Project

A big part of the frustration of Far Cry 2's movement problems I mentioned yesterday, is that these problems have been solved in other games. It's not like FC2 is the first first person shooter invented which has tree roots. But at the same time, the problems I experienced are a worrying indication that first person shooters featuring procedurally generated, wide open spaces, are going to have issues with movement when the terrain isn't smoothed out by a human hand.

Movement in military themed first person shooters is, as far as I am concerned, a solved problem. There is an excellent article series Dslyecxi's Tactical Gaming Done Right (warning: hours of reading at this link) describing exactly what movement grammar a military FPS should include, the main trade off being the time required to implement these movements. But instead first person shooters seem stuck in the WASD jump crouch moves of yore.

I would like to propose a partial solution to the mess of FPS designs: a military themed first person shooter movement standard, which describes a standardised grammar of moves that a first person game which matches the standard must support. There would ideally be a reference implementation in a number of the current engines (Source, Unreal etc), but this is not necessary to start with.

The important part would be the branding, so there would be a sales and marketing advantage to publishers in adhering to the standard, and so that you, the consumer, could quickly check that the game complied.

There will be an inevitable trade off between what features the game must support, against what are optional features - while a rush to the lowest standard is probably inevitable, the benefit in having a standardised design document to which the major companies to reference, as well as would be FPS designers learn from, should hopefully improve the current state of affairs.

Another aspect is reviewer education: and I'd be interested to hear from any game reviewers whether this would be of help. Even pointing game review sites at Dslyecxi's article series on a regular basis would be beneficial to start with.

The argument against this, is that the grammar of movement forms an important part of the game play, and well-written games should have a unique feel for the avatar's movement. I don't disagree, but note that, for instance, I can quickly slip into Valve's source engine games because of the common movement core between games, before having to learn about the exceptions. And this is not necessarily targetted at well written games - Far Cry 2 being a case in point, where care and attention has been paid to parts of the game other than movement, and where (I suspect) a reference to design against may have helped in this instance.


Friday 9 January 2009

Review: Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 has been an exercise in frustration. I appear to suffering from a disease that prevents me moving over anything knee high or higher, even when I jump; which manifests itself most frequently trying to climb out of boats.

Then there is the complete lack of check point saves.

Unfortunately, I appear to have spent money on something that reviewers somehow liked while failing to mention any of these basic facts.

[Edit as of 20th April 2011: Some 2 years later, I successfully finish this sprawling and brilliant game, which defies first impressions and ends up being one of the most acclaimed and talked about shooters of its time. However I want to preserve this record of my first thoughts of this game].

Angband now GPL clean

The significance of this cannot be understated. Angband, which has long been under a non-open source license now has received permission to move to the GPL from every contributor for the code using in the 3.1.0 release. The last permissions required were from Ross Becker, as outlined here.

This now means that any Angband variant built from version 3.1.0 or later can take advantage of code hosting on Source Forge and other code repositories which restricted free but not open software, as well as the significant protection of the Free Software Foundation should the Angband code be unfairly expropriated elsewhere.

Time to open a bottle of champagne. It's been a long time coming.

Thursday 8 January 2009

I need an economist

In an interruption to your regular service, a small plea for help.

I've written an article for an upcoming 'The Amateur' column on GameSetWatch, and I need someone with an economics background to sanity check it.

In case you're wondering, I'm an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to economics (which is why Prince Charming revolved around financial arbitrage) but I've never had any conventional training in the subject beyond a 1st year university paper.

The column will be on why it is rational to pay for something even when you can get it for free. As a part of that, I make some statements around why people start companies, for which I've not seen the conventional economic explanation (I've seen plenty for why people continue to run companies, but not why they start them).

Here's the scenario, restated slightly:

Ten people want to have a party, which will cost them a total of $1000. How should they apportion the costs?

The answer appears to be split 10 ways (another to weight it based on the relative pleasure they'll derive from the party).

However, one of them comes up with the idea of selling tickets to the party at $20 dollars each. That way, each person only has to pay $20, instead of a higher amount, and they only have to find another 40 people to pay for the costs.

How many of the ten people does it make sense to start the 'party company' with, which will sell the tickets and pay for the party?

One argument is that all 10 people should join. Because in this instance, they only have to sell one more ticket to be better off then when only 10 people were paying for it.

My questions are: Why should a person choose not to join the party company? What possible benefit do they derive from allowing the party company to make a profit, and how does this relate to why you should pay for something when you can get it for free?

(I've got the answer, I think, and hopefully I've piqued your interest. More importantly, the answer still makes sense even when the number of attendees is known in advance).

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Nintendo DS question for you

What should I buy in order to start enjoying the Nintendo DS homebrew scene? Pros and cons in the comments please - remember I'm in Australia.

I want minimum fuss, with expandable storage a bonus if possible.

Monday 5 January 2009

Trends for Roguelikes in 2009

Here's where I gaze into my crystal Orb, wearing a ring of reflection, and make ten predictions about roguelikes in 2009. You can help, by voting your top trend of 2009 in this week's poll.

10. We'll see more roguelike-likes like Spelunky using procedural generation to extend the game play of a non-roguelike genre. I've championed procedural generation for some time, but unfortunately, like the Sims, we'll not see anyone other than Electronic Arts capitalize on the unique place that Spore occupies. The exception will be procedural narrative techniques, which will continue to be slipped in the back door for a variety of different games, following on from the success of Left4Dead and Far Cry 2 - however the tech won't mature significantly before 2010. Fingers crossed, there'll be a first person shooter released which uses procedural map generation, but I suspect that also won't happen until 2010 at the earliest.

9. There'll be more roguelikes released on Flash and mobile platforms in 2009 than we've seen in previous years combined. Some of these will be ports from existing roguelikes that move across to the mobile platform (Angband and variants will be the most active in this area), others will be newly developed games, particularly developed from game developer communities other than

8. I don't believe we'll see an Angband variant released this year. Work will continue on a number of existing variants, but a fair amount of that will be catching up with the user interface features that Angband is currently developing. I really rather wonder if the Angband variant developer community is dying a little...

7. The depth and complexity of a Dwarf Fortress or Incursion will not be matched by any newly released roguelike this year. Which is a shame, but I don't believe there is any roguelike developer working behind the scenes on their magnum opus capable of delivering this. By implication, JADE will not be released this year.

6. There will however, be a significant release of at least one roguelike built on a roguelike engine developed by someone else. This may be ToME 3, libcotd or another engine. The roguelike engines are getting to the point at which they deliver a compelling use case.

5. A trend that has not been exploited sufficiently, but may catch on this year is roguelikes that allow creation of user generated content which can be then recycled back into the game for other players. Imagine a roguelike where you design a room template, which is then placed in the dungeon mixed in with room templates contributed by other players. If I can make one trend happen by discussing it here, I'd like it to be this one.

4. There were a large number of commercial roguelikes released in 2007, a smaller but high quality list in 2008. 2009 will feature almost no commercial roguelike releases, but will feature one developed outside of Japan - I'm guessing Russia.

3. Diablo III will flatten the roguelike community for about 3 months after release, at which point everyone will start bitching about it and go back to Dwarf Fortress / World of Warcraft.

2. Stuff* will happen with Unangband. Stay tuned.

1. The next version of NetHack will be released.

0. John Harris will get around to writing about your favourite roguelike (again).

* By stuff, I tentatively mean version 1.0.

Full results for Ascii Dreams Roguelike of the Year

At 75 roguelikes released last year, this qualified as the longest poll ever, but suggests that 2008 was a bumper year for roguelikes and the roguelike community. That there were 371 people who took the time to recognise their favourite roguelike suggests we have a vibrant community who span across games to celebrate the fundamentals of the genre - replayability over repetitiveness, ideograph over art, the fun of failure and the fruits of victory.

A big thanks to everyone who voted, and look forward to having you back at the end of 2009.

Alan's Psychedelic Journey
5 (1%)
7 (1%)
1 (0%)
Caverns of Underkeep
3 (0%)
2 (0%)
1 (0%)
Cracks and Crevices
0 (0%)
1 (0%)
0 (0%)
Crown of the Forest
0 (0%)
2 (0%)
5 (1%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
45 (12%)
Doryen's Arena
6 (1%)
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
126 (33%)
0 (0%)
Dwarf Fortress
116 (31%)
18 (4%)
4 (1%)
First Age Angband
10 (2%)
0 (0%)
Frozen Depths
9 (2%)
18 (4%)
1 (0%)
1 (0%)
Heroic Adventure!
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
Incursion: Halls of the Goblin King
45 (12%)
2 (0%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
Labyrinth of Reptoran
0 (0%)
7 (1%)
28 (7%)
Lords of DarkHall
1 (0%)
Mage Guild
10 (2%)
Megaman RL
0 (0%)
Mines of Elderlore
0 (0%)
Mines of Morgoth
1 (0%)
0 (0%)
4 (1%)
2 (0%)
30 (8%)
0 (0%)
3 (0%)
Portralis - NewAngband
3 (0%)
Privateer: Ascii Sector
13 (3%)
1 (0%)
Rogue 5.4
2 (0%)
0 (0%)
Rogue Mercenaries
1 (0%)
1 (0%)
9 (2%)
0 (0%)
2 (0%)
5 (1%)
2 (0%)
Test Adventure
0 (0%)
The Slimy Lichmummy
1 (0%)
1 (0%)
15 (4%)
1 (0%)
0 (0%)
16 (4%)
UnReal World
10 (2%)
Warlock's Mountain
0 (0%)
Warp Rogue
3 (0%)
0 (0%)
Wizard vAlpha
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
13 (3%)
2 (0%)

Next poll will be up shortly.