Sunday 13 July 2014

UnBrogue postmortem: part 2

It has been over a year since my last UnBrogue post-mortem article, which just goes to show how much time I have spent developing this Brogue variant, which is to say, virtually none.

However, Brogue itself has had two version releases since I last finished the game, and a number of design changes have either vindicated or echoed decisions I made in UnBrogue, so I thought it worth documenting the similarities. I'm not going to be able to draw many conclusions from these, other than 'I told you so' and there's plenty of things in UnBrogue that are not in or intended to be in Brogue, but which I'd like to see preserved and playable at some future date.

The most obvious one in Brogue is that armour now affects your stealth. This was one of the original reasons for creating UnBrogue, however Pender incorporated a significant rewrite of the stealth mechanism for the Brogue release whereas I merely added a stealth modifier for different armour types. I've not played enough Brogue 1.7.4 to know how the stealth mechanics differ, but the effect was significant enough in UnBrogue that in plate armour you'd effectively end up fighting all the monsters on a level near the stairs you entered through. I'd like to think I was somewhat influential here in making a case for linking armour with stealth, although this is harder a revolutionary idea.

The second is that the dagger now has a higher backstab multiplier than other weapons - although a fixed amount in Brogue, whereas it is enchantment dependent in UnBrogue. Again, hardly a revolutionary idea, but it was one that I was criticised for by some long term Brogue players, so I had a small moment of satisfaction in seeing this in the release notes for 1.7.4.

The third is that immunities and slays now include categories of monsters rather than individual monster types. Again, Pender differed significantly here in that the categories of slaying and immunity are far broader than the ones I chose, although there are some of the same choices (jelly immunity in both versions). I'm less willing to claim any influence here, because I believe Pender already had intended to do this.

The fourth is one of the new puzzle rooms is similar in theory to a number of the puzzle rooms in UnBrogue. Again, this is because I built it from the same elements already present in Pender's game - and Pender would have noted direct inspiration in the source code.

The fifth is the addition of further weapon types. The designs are radically different (and much more inspired on Pender's behalf), and the flail is likely influenced by games like Hoplite, but it was clear that there was a need for more variety, and what I've played of the whip is especially fun.

As for UnBrogue, I'd like to fix up the last remaining bugs and release a full 1.1.7 rather than the release candidate it has been stuck at for 2 days less than a full year; however the bugs I've introduced were pretty resistant to being fixed (I can't duplicate the wand/staff crash bug) and it is likely to be some time before this will happen.

And the attraction of working on UnBrogue has weakened far faster and further than UnAngband. I think there's several reasons for this. Firstly, as noted above, a big part of the initial reasons for UnBrogue have been incorporated into the main game, even though UnBrogue has gone a lot further than just these initial changes. Secondly, Brogue has diverged in a number of systemic ways that it would probably require that I start reimplementing UnBrogue from scratch on the new code base. Thirdly, Brogue has fallen into this unusual space for me, game play wise. After playing the likes of 868-Hack and Hoplite, Brogue feels in many ways both too big a game: the early decisions are spaced 'too far apart' rather than being turn by turn, and I now find myself on autopilot through the first few levels which inevitably gets me killed on level 4 or 5. Whereas Brogue doesn't have enough strategic headroom to be a truly sprawling game that I can lose myself in (like Unangband).

That's not to say that I don't think Brogue is an amazing game. And I also would like to preserve some of the crazy ideas that UnBrogue has, to continue as a variant of Brogue moving forward. But between child rearing, starting work on Unangband again, and my other current obsessions (like play testing the 3rd edition of High Frontier), I don't see a time or a place in the short term for a new UnBrogue release.

PS: I've updated the Rogue Basin UnBrogue page and added a page on the Brogue wikia to include the links to the latest UnBrogue downloads if you are still interested in playing the game. I think it is well worth it, and I've spent a huge amount of satisfying time adding stuff. I'm especially proud of all the new puzzle room designs I was able to come up with.

Monday 7 July 2014

The Real Roguelike Renaissance

There has been a mini-spate of 'explainer' articles aimed at easing the neophyte gamer into the world of roguelikes: both on Gamasutra ('Roguelikes': Getting to the heart of the it-genre), and IGN (Roguelikes: The Rebirth of the Counterculture). Both simultaneously praise the old school nature of high difficulty levels, permadeath, procedural generation, and point towards the emergence of the genre into the mainstream as a fresh new trend, with interviews with well known indie game developers such as Edmund McMillen (The Binding of Isaac) and Daniel Cook (Road Not Taken) as well as up and comers like Teddy Lee (Rogue Legacy), Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond (Risk of Rain) and Keith Burgun (100 Rogues, Auro).

But by pointing at successful examples of commercial roguelikes and focusing on pull quotes from current developers, both articles miss the real roguelike renaissance which predates the examples given by a number of years. Listeners of Roguelike Radio and members of the close knit roguelike community will be aware of the much more titanic shifts in roguelike development in the noncommercial space from a long spanning tradition of the big four roguelikes (NetHack, Angband, ADOM and Dungeon Crawl), through to the relative stasis of the early to mid 2000s followed by the explosive reinvention of the genre inspired by the 7DRL competition, and coffee break roguelikes in general.

I would like to trace a through line from this early roguelike Renaissance to the antecedent of almost all recent commercial roguelikes, Spelunky, which in its freeware form was a huge influence on the early successes of the Binding of Isaac and FTL, but I'm not sure whether such a path can be followed. If it is, Derek Yu would be the person to talk to, but neither explainer article includes an interview with Derek, and I don't recall him talking about whether any of the more recent games influenced Spelunky. There is a direct connection between Derek Yu and DoomRL, but I suspect Spelunky was much more fashioned by the general rise of the indie game and Derek's fondness for NetHack than his participation or awareness of early 7DRL efforts.

But even if there is no connection, it is an important part of the story that the community should be telling and a narrative that is far more interesting than the 'difficulty is in again' message that the mainstream press is perpetuating. It is also a way of including the unsung heroes of the rise of the roguelike - the authors of countless freeware roguelikes who influenced and built the platforms upon which we stand, as well as the original authors of Rogue who founded the genre.