Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Roguelike Review Series Wrap Up

The end of the month means the end of my roguelike review series. I will review another series of roguelikes later in the year. I did miss a notable few including Slash 'EM, Elona and Diablo. With the release of Diablo 3, I probably should've ended the series with a Diablo review, but the Diablo series shifts away from the roguelike genre and is more action/RPG/isometric/etc.

Overdosing on a particular genre is not healthy for a gamer, I'm looking at you MMO players. A change of pace will keep me fresh for another roguelike series later in the year. Also, due to the complexities of some roguelikes, review times can be slow and it's sometimes hard to give justice to the game's content. Hopefully, this month's series of reviews can offer a taste before people decide to invest their time playing a game.

A quick reminder, the games reviewed this month are free to download and play, but their continual development is dependent on fan donations. Most free roguelikes have a donate button on their website. If you have a few spare dollars, and like their game, donate and keep the developers working.

I will return to reviewing games I happen to be playing, currently they're: Ace of Spades, Crusader Kings 2 and Diablo 3. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or Facebook for new updates.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Roguelike Review: DoomRL

Holy Crap. Doom the roguelike, mixture of mid 90s FPS classic Doom and the awesome depth of a modern roguelike. A match made in heaven...or hell? When I first heard about DoomRL, years ago, I thought the game could go two ways - fantastic or massive fail. A mad scientist like concept, does this Frankenstein's monster like game live up to the classic Doom legacy?

I'm not going to introduce Doom, go Google it now if you are 12 years old or casual. Needless to say, Doom is a classic FPS action game with gameplay features that modern developers still emulate today. DoomRL incorporates story, characters and gameplay elements from Doom into the roguelike genre. First person viewpoint is changed to top down, real time action is now turn based and many other changes have been made to transform the essence of Doom into DoomRL.

You start the game as a marine, scout or technician. DoomRL features a unique skill tree and custom equipment modding. Skill and equipment tailoring will need to be mastered for you to win the game. Unlike most roguelikes, DoomRL is action focused and has been designed for fast gameplay that can be enjoyed by casual gamers. DoomRL cuts back on the normal roguelike learning curve, allowing players to jump straight into the game and start blasting away - just like Doom.

All of Doom's weapons are featured and DoomRL includes special and unique weapon variants. Equipment, weapons and armor can be modded to increase damage, speed, etc. Chainsaws, knifes and fists allow you to melee opponents, but I think DoomRL's gunplay shines through. Blasting enemies with you chaingun or plasma rifle is quite satisfying. If a stubborn enemy crosses your path, time to bring out the BFG or rocket launcher. Knowing the right gun for the situation is critical to beating boss monsters or clearing a demon infested room.

DoomRL demands sensible resource management from the player. Ammunition, armor durability and health all need to be maintained throughout the game. Running out of ammo or armor at a crucial moment can be quite fatal. Fighting with your fists or chainsaw can be quite brutal, but your health and armor will suffer for it. Powerups, randomly placed around levels, can save the player's life or offer a huge advantage over the local filth.

DoomRL features both randomly generated and custom crafted levels. Custom levels are denoted by their red staircases and their designs are usually based upon famous Doom levels. Levels can be skipped if you are not properly prepared or you have run out of supplies. DoomRL is very forgiving for a rougelike and offers multiple difficulty modes for novices, experts and everyone in-between.

If you have fond memories of the original Doom series, and don't mind the roguelike genre, than DoomRL will give you a decent nostalgia hit. Easter eggs, references, enemies and epic soundtrack will bring those 90s memories flooding back.

DoomRL is the fastest paced and action oriented roguelike I have ever played. Music and sound effects are remastered from the original games and the soundtrack immediately sets the right "Doom mood". If you need to waste a few minutes or an hour, DoomRL is the perfect game - light on story and heavy on action.

DoomRL now features full graphical support and is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. DoomRL can be found here.

-I'm too young to die!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Roguelike Review: Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress - Ground Level
Dwarf Fortress(DF) is an epic(understatement) city building and dwarven life simulation roguelike created by Toady One and the people at Bay12Games. The game puts you in charge of managing, building and exploring a new dwarven fortress. The fortress' success depends on the player's choices, and one wrong move could see every dwarf under your supervision killed. Can you build a fortress to withstand nature, goblin invasion, epic monsters and the depths of dwarven depression?

Before the game begins, world generation takes place. Random generation, based on user selection, allows for both small and massive worlds to be created. Procedural generation creates a unique world of ice and fire, and everything in between. Over a period of time, random events are generated across the world, giving life to the newly created world. After world generation, players can choose a tiny section of the world to begin a new life, a new dwarven fortress.

Choosing the correct starting location is very important. Location, location, location! In real life, and in DF, location is critical; locations in DF can be pro or anti-survival. Fresh water, extensive lumber, decent metal ore and non-threatening wildlife should make life easier for the new player. Experts can choose haunted or terrifying areas that are poor in natural resources and feature hostile, undead wildlife. My last playthrough featured a glacier with three aquifer levels of undrinkable salt water separating my dwarfs from their precious stone bedrock. Real world geography is deeply represented in DF. If you know what kind of stone and metals are found in sedimentary layers of earth, you should be right at home.

You play as Snow White with seven dwarfs, no you don't, but seven hardy, booze-fueled dwarfs are your initial party of settlers. Before embarkation to your chosen land, customisation of skills and starting supplies allows you to tailor your expedition; poorly chosen skills and supplies can make life challenging or even fatal. If you are new to DF, I highly recommend reading a starting guide on DF's wiki; there is a lot of information to digest and players can be easily overwhelmed. There are numerous learn-to-play and tutorial videos on YouTube that can show you the ropes too.

The game starts with an overhead view of your location, seven dwarfs, a wagon of supplies and any animals you decided to start with. You should become familiar with the surrounding land and command list on the right-hand side of the screen; the command list is how you control your dwarven cohort's actions. Mining down or into a cliff face is a good start when constructing any fortress. Moving your dwarfs and property underground provides both safety and security. After unpacking and settling your dwarfs into their new home, you need to think about long term survival, security and fortress expansion.

As the seasons role past, events will start to trigger: trade wagons, roaming herds of animals, goblin invaders or even a mega-beast (dragon, titan or tentacle monster) might come to pay you a visit. DF pushes you into creating a sustainable and well secured fortress. Trenches, traps, bridges, magma, water, dwarven men-at-arms, defensive design and much more can be utilised to keep your dwarfs safe from unwanted invaders. As each year passes, skilled migrants from your homeland will help grow your fortress and swell your ranks; seven dwarfs can soon turn into hundreds.

Dwarf Fortress - Housing Level
Learning Curve

As the above-right picture shows, DF has a very steep learning curve. Ultimately, the game rewards how much time and effort you spend reading, planing and designing. Dwarfs don't need to be micro-managed all the time and most will go about their daily duties without much hassle. Military action on the other hand does take some time to master; during battle, a new player might find their military units wiped out while an expert wouldn't lose a single dwarf. Experience, proper training and equipment will lead your dwarf armies to victory - dwarfs are built for battle and hardship.

Playing DF can often be humorous, but sometimes quite uncomfortable. You will never forget the first time you butcher a kitten or puppy and you'll be surprised at how mundane butchering cute animals will become in the future. Butchering animals provides precious food, leather and bone. Morality is definitely relative to your situation when playing DF. Dwarfs are created with their own personality and their own likes and dislikes. Dwarfs can become depressed, even suicidal or insane. When tragedy strikes or their favorite drink is out of stock the dwarf psyche will be effected. Depression can spiral out of control and maintaining dwarven happiness is another gameplay element. Happy dwarfs are productive dwarfs.

Depending on your creativity, you may eventually start a mega-structure or project. A massive arena pitting monsters vs goblins, a huge castle or tower, massive water or magma works, mazes, air fortresses and much more. The sky(or your imagination) is the limit on what constructions you want to build. Be careful though, dealing with magma and water can lead to "unexpected consequences" and a magma flooded fort could be game over.

DF is an epic game, its depth is extraordinary, even by roguelike standards, and many hours of joy, laughter and sadness can be experienced playing the game. DF allows you to craft your own tale and personal storytelling is a defining feature. This review barely touches on most of DF's features - there are just too many for a short review. DF still has a few bugs here and there, but nothing game breaking; new features are also added and refined every few months. 

DF is free and available on Windows, Linux and Mac with ASCII tilesets here. Personally, I like using the LazyNewbPack for windows available here. The LazyNewbPack speeds up the time to configure a new game of DF and includes a few popular graphical tilesets.

Strike the earth!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Roguelike Review: Rogue Survivor

Have you ever wondered how you would fare during a zombie apocalypse? Rogue Survivor simulates life and death in the big city during a nasty zombie outbreak. Day-to-day survival and investigation of the city's points of interest are the players main objectives. Resource management and good decision making should make your stay in z-town less than lethal. Playing as a zombie is also included in Rogue Survivor, but this review will only cover standard survivor gameplay.

Character creation allows you to choose gender and one special skill. Your character is randomly generated and spawned inside the newly infected city. In the beginning zombies have just started their rampage and police will start shooting at these, seemingly, pale cannibalistic murderers. Things will go downhill fast. Head to nearby shops for food and weapons, beware the undead, and look for a good place to hide for the first night. Scavenging and reinforcing defenses are now your only chance for survival. Moving through the night is suicidal, it's better to sleep and heal for the next day's trials.

As the days and nights roll by, your survival skills will develop. Shooting, carpentry, light-eating and leadership are some of the abilities you'll need to survive. Shooting skills enhance damage and accuracy, carpentry allows you to build stronger fortifications with less materials, light-eating lets you eat smaller and infrequent meals and leadership allows you to recruit other survivors as buddies. Recruiting other survivors allows you to bring more firepower to a confrontation and helps with keeping your sanity in check; keep in mind that your buddies need food and supplies too.

Zombies aren't the deadliest threat in the city. Roving city gangs, bikies and starving survivors will not let you pass in peace with valuable food. You can outrun a zombie, but can you outrun bullets? Rogue Survivor simulates different events such as: waves of new survivors and zombies entering the city, national guard and black ops deployment, army supply drops and much more. Knowing how to exploit each event will help you survive. Helping people is okay, but leaving that zombie to its man-meal may leave you with some extra supplies. If you start murdering civilians you better watch out, law enforcement have orders to kill on sight.

Located around the city are the offices of the enigmatic C.H.A.R corporation, a large hospital and city police station. Investigation of these locations develop the storyline and yield much needed survival supplies. Rogue Survivor is still in alpha development and the final storyline is left open for the player to interpret. Game achievements are unlocked for location discovery, special enemy kills and days survived.

You died? In the zombie apocalypse this is not uncommon. The game does not have to end with your death, a pleasant surprise from a roguelike. Rogue Survivor allows you to be reanimated as an undead or take over the role of another survivor.  Zombies have their own skill sets and evolution stages completely different from the living. The survivors who stole all your food can now become a tasty treat instead.

Rogue Survivor is fun. Shooting zombies with crossbows, rifles or revolvers can be very satisfying. Starving, going insane or being killed by gang members is less satisfying, but still fun. If you like zombies and you like roguelikes than Rogue Survivor is a match made in heaven. Rogue Survivor also offers a solid save system that allows you to load and save anywhere. I can't wait for the full final release.

Rogue Survivor is free and can be found here.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Roguelike Review: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is a modern style roguelike that is still currently under development. Stone Soup features: a classic roguelike dungeon descent; race, instead of class, focused gameplay; a user-friendly interface, a unique skill training system; amazingly, a full in-game tutorial; and the updated trimmings of a classic roguelike. Stone Soup is a newbie-friendly roguelike, and the tutorial and hint systems are a unique offering to the genre.

The Orb of Zot lies at the bottom of the dungeon, it's your job to retrieve the artifact and return the orb safely to the surface. As always you create a character: name, race and class; each race and class has their own strengths and weaknesses. Stone Soup is unique in how it crafts races and how racial ability can dramatically effect gameplay. Playing to your racial strengths can make the game much easier, but a mismatch of race and class can spell disaster.

Stone Soup has an in-game tutorial system. GASP! Yes, it does, and it's well made too. The tutorial is a perfect start for learning any roguelike, not just Stone Soup. The game also features a newbie-friendly hint system covering the first few levels of the dungeon. The hint system is perfect for players finding it hard to start their initial dungeon crawl.

Be warned, Stone Soup, like all roguelikes, is not an easy game to master. Dying is all too easy for the hasty adventurer; slow and steady wins the race. Fortunately, Stone Soup is not as harsh as NetHack when it comes to identifying potions and spells. Utilization of  your skills, potions, racial ability and spells is encouraged. Knowledge and proper execution of your abilities enables you to overcome the many tentacled obstacles trying to choke the life out of you.

Stone Soup is not without its problems. Stone Soup seems to favour ranged over melee fighting. My berserker, Max, came to many unfortunate ends due to ranged casters or minigun-like ranged archers. Some players, who play ranged characters, will be glad to see that, for once, melee has taken a backseat. Melee characters are expected, although not required, to learn a ranged weapon or spell skill for fighting adaptability. In fact, there are many warrior-mage class types to choose from during character creation and I think this reflects Stone Soup's ranged favouritism.

The last problem I have with Stone Soup is balance. Some monsters are walkovers and others are solid walls, there is no middle ground. Named special monsters and their entourage, may randomly appear early in the game, they are often overwhelming and can easily kill an early character. The strategy for dealing with these special monsters is giving them a wide berth. Some people find this type of no-win strategic gameplay fun, I find it to be poor game design, as one wrong move means you'll be turned into someone's steak sandwich; time again to remake your character.

Stone Soup is still under development and refinement of game features should be expected. There are a few bugs in the game, but I didn't come across anything game breaking. You can help the dev team by submitting any bugs you find.

If you like varied races, no-win strategising and ranged heavy combat than Stone Soup is for you. Stone Soup has the best tutorial I have ever played in a roguelike and the hint system is also an awesome addition. Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is free to play and can be downloaded here.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Roguelike Review: IVAN

IVAN (Iter Vehemens ad Necem), first released in 2001, is a comparatively modern variant of the roguelike genre. IVAN's modern features include: an updated graphical interface, body parts with tailored damage, unique fighting skills, boss monsters, an overhead map, large towns, a large pantheon of distinctive gods and expansive equipment list. IVAN uses new techniques to bring a more personal and visceral feeling out of the roguelike adventure format. As with all true roguelikes, dying in IVAN is permanent, so try to keep a hold on your character's head.

You start the game as a banana plantation worker. A free spirit who has been selected to deliver an encoded message to the local authority. With your trusty pet, you set out to the nearest monster infested dungeon leading to your destination. No sweat. You'll want to scavenge discarded equipment and start slashing, hacking, zapping, punching and kicking your way through the creatures blocking your passage. In short order: limbs will start flying, groins will be bleeding, heads will be severed, vomit will be thrown up; and, hopefully, by the end of it, you will still be alive.

IVAN's visceral feel comes in the form of player and monster damage. Loss of limbs, and loss of anything attached to that limb, can become a common occurrence when faced with lethal enemies. During my playthrough, my character Max was bitten in the groin and then subsequently had his right leg ripped off by a wolf. After a quick escape, utilising a teleportation wand, Max was left hopping around, sans leg and sans boot. A player might find themselves, without arms, trying to bite their enemies to death. A classic Monty Python reference comes to mind.
Unlike NetHack, which has a cold elegance, IVAN is a much more brighter and personal game. Your character isn't shoehorned into a class and IVAN's world, with its large open towns, feels more alive.  IVAN's magic and ready to use equipment makes the game more accessible to new players than compared to the more traditional NetHack, which some could say is new player averse. Don't mistake IVAN for an easy game though, the final sections are rumored to be next to impossible.

If you have become tired of dying in NetHack, but still crave an RPG low on graphics and high on fun, than IVAN is for you. IVAN is freely available on Windows, DOS and Linux here.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Roguelike Review: NetHack

NetHack is the modern day, synonymous roguelike; it is the game other roguelikes are compared to. A direct heir of Rogue(1980) and Hack(1985), NetHack stays true to the source material while expanding the in-game content manyfold. NetHack is still being updated for new OSes, such as Mac OS. Amazingly, NetHack can be played by blind people with the proper Braille equipment.

NetHack starts with standard role playing character creation: enter your name, character class, race, and alignment. My character Max, for example, is a chaotic human barbarian. Your class and racial choice will determine your strengths and weaknesses during the game. As an example a barbarian excels in hand to hand combat; whereas a mage does not. Knowing your class and racial abilities is paramount to surviving the Mazes of Menace and beyond.

The player's main goal is to retrieve the fabled Amulet of Yendor from the Mazes of Menace and sacrifice it to your aligned god. You start with a trusty pet cat, dog or pony. Before starting the game it is advised to read the guidebook that comes with Nethack. Setting up game options and reading about different commands will help you in the long run.

NetHack is very unfriendly to new players. It takes no prisoners, it doesn't hold your hand and it will permanently kill your character. Monsters, starvation, drowning, poison, trap, explosion, choking and spells are a few of the many ways to die in this game. There is no tutorial and you will either have to read a starting guide or NetHack's provided guidebook for a basic introduction. There is an exploration mode which will make you invincible, but stops you from scoring points and winning the game. Exploration mode can be used to learn about the game before getting serious with personalised characters.

Dungeons are randomised, which means no two games will be exactly the same. Even your character's death will be used to create new dungeon levels. This randomisation is the key to NetHack's, or any other roguelike's, longevity. Remembering dungeon paths, death traps, choke points and escape routes will become second nature. Creating new paths and corralling monsters into single file are skills which every aspiring dungeoneer and spelunker must master. Traps litter the dungeons and one wrong step can lead to death. Watch your step, and keep your pet dragon close. 

As you, literally, eat your way through enemies you will learn which strategies work and which don't. Every death should be treated as a learning experience and eventually the secrets of NetHack will unfold before you. There are spoiler FAQs and in-depth guides, but these will ruin the delight of experimentation and surviving on your own. Completing the game without spoilers is said to be near impossible. There is a lot to remember. Writing things down in your own notepad will remind you of certain monsters, potions or scroll effects.

NetHack is slightly addictive; you will want to avenge your fallen characters; you will want to go deeper into the dungeon; you will want to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor or die trying; you will want to genocide undead liches. Trying new character classes and racial combos and exploring new dungeons paths can keep you playing Nethack for weeks, months or even years; you have been warned.

If slick 3D graphics are all you care about then this game is not for you. Imagination and personal narrative is what NetHack brings out in players. If graphics are important, NetHack does have assorted tilesets for GUI OSes. The program Vulture here turns NetHack into an isometric game for the ASCII averse, graphically inclined player. Vulture already comes with a copy of NetHack.

If you like Dungeons and Dragons, literary references, fantasy, sci fi, magic and adventure then NetHack is for you. If you lack imagination and patience or you hunger for bleeding edge graphics then NetHack is definitely not for you. Personally, NetHack is awesome.

NetHack is free and available here.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Roguelike Review Introduction

Before the world wide web, BBSes with dial up modems ruled the day. 9600 baud was lightning fast and graphics took a backseat to design, story and innovative gameplay. In the early 1980s, computer engineers and programmers didn't have the internet to kill time. Instead, tech heads had UNIX mainframes and pen and paper DnD campaigns to capture their hearts and minds. In the time before the Internet, in the American universities that went on to create the Internet, a video game called Rogue was born.

Rogue was the original, procedurally generated, role playing, permanent death, dungeon diving, ASCII tiled game. A thinking man's game, it rewarded sensible well thought out acts and chided quick decision and sloppy execution. Since Rogue's birth in the 80s, many roguelike children and grandchildren have been born. Modern day examples include NetHack, SLASHEM, Stone Soup, Diablo, Dwarf Fortress, Dungeons of Dreadmor,  IVAN and Elona.

Over the coming weeks I will be reviewing one or two roguelikes and posting my experience on the blog. If anyone has a roguelike suggestion feel free to comment below.