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Part 3 of A Big-Budget Roguelike?

The concluding entry in Mr. Adequate’s ‘A Big-Budget Roguelike’ series. If you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2!

This is the fact that roguelikes are traditionally turn-based. This is vastly more consequential that first blush suggests, so much so that I think addressing it one way or another would be among the most important parts of any effort to make a big-budget roguelike. The reason for this is that being turn-based is what dictates the pace of the game, and what makes all those other elements important in turn. You enter a room in a dungeon and see three monsters, two of which you recognize as tough enemies, the third you’ve never seen before. Now you have to stop and think; Can you guess what the third monster can do, and how strong it is? At this point the many options of a roguelike come into play, and being turn-based is at the heart of that. Out of all your skills, spells, and items, which ones will serve you best in this encounter? Wiping out some small-time idiot is simple, but when you come up against a challenge in a roguelike, it is a tense game of tactics, luck, and knowing what you have on hand and how to use it. The fondest memories of pretty much any roguelike player will come from these fights, where you overcome ridiculous odds through the clever use of your tools, and most roguelikes pride themselves on designing encounters which can go from unwinnable to trivial depending on the player’s use of their tools.

Also note that there are a million items as well.
The skills available to just one class.

Going real-time changes that equation. By definition if your players can’t stop and think, your game design has to accommodate that. Imagine trying to play Dark Souls with the number of skills, items, potions, etc., that are present in a game like ToME. It simply isn’t feasible. There are still solutions to this; you could have a turn-based first-person dungeon crawler nonetheless, a game like Legend of Grimrock or Etrian Odyssey, as there is certainly a healthy market. You could do as The Elder Scrolls does, and have real-time combat with the ability to pause, go through all your spells or items, and select them or use them instantly. That gets unwieldy, but may be a sufficient solution. And this all assumes a change from the top-down grid-based perspective anyway, and that may not actually be needed. Instead you could keep that but have very high quality graphics, properly animated sprites, and plentiful effects. I am not entirely convinced of how well that could sell, but it is certainly one angle that would be interesting to see attempted.

And in the end I might just be barking up the wrong tree here. As I said above this is a hobbyist’s genre. Modern indie stuff has hugely benefited from the possibilities opened up by crowdfunding, and more than one existing roguelike has used it in order to improve. Games like ToME, ADOM, and Cataclysm have expanded gameplay as well as made themselves more attractive, whilst a game like Dungeonmans has helped refine things so that it is more accessible. Games from FTL to Project Zomboid have taken aspects of the genre and made something new. Japanese devs have always taken some parts of Roguelikes and incorporated them into exciting games, with a particular focus on first person, Dragon Quest-inspired dungeon crawlers. All of this makes it hard to predict the future of the genre, as it may inspire a bigger effort from a bigger developer who thinks they see a niche, or it may simply continue being a smaller, constantly remixed genre for those who want to go and find it.

I'm definitely going to resist the siren song of Legion btw.
It wouldn’t be the first time a genre has had an unexpected breakout hit that changes everything!

Either way, though, Procedural Death Labyrinths are in rude health as a genre. There are a wealth of entries that range from the brutally hardcore NetHack to the much more approachable, yet still challenging, Dungeonmans. And as I have said there are also many games that take some aspects of the genre whilst leaving others behind to make new subgenres or gameplay experiences. Despite this I would still love to see a company with real resources take a shot at the genre. Any takers? From Software? Bethesda? Anyone?

The Art of the Story-Driven Game

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic lately.  Playing through a good RPG is always an interesting experience for me in particular, because the storytelling method is so far removed from that of the strategy games that I’m usually playing.  Something like a strategy game is very open-ended and sandboxy; the story comes entirely out of what you are doing.  RPGs and other story-driven games, on the other hand, are more limited.  There are a set, finite number of stories to be told, even when you’re presented with a multitude of options and endings in classic Bioware style.

SPOILER: Twilight is Darth Revan.

But this isn’t a bad thing.  Rather, it’s a very interesting narrative device.  It’s akin to a movie or book or TV series, but separate from all three.

A movie tends to be just a couple of hours long, for example, whereas the main storyline of a game can easily go on for 30+ hours.  So a video game’s storytelling is more in line with the lengthy tales of a book or TV series, but then you have the interactivity and the subsequent bond you develop with it because of that, and the result is a truly fascinating way to tell a story.

It will be interesting to see where games go from here in terms of being a narrative device.  While I personally believe that features like interactivity and gameplay are of paramount importance in games– that is why games are games, after all– the idea that a game might be considered a great piece of literature some day is a really fantastic one.

Watching and Reading Let’s Plays

One of my pleasures related to gaming is to read Let’s Plays, so I thought I might cook up a little blog post about the topic and then open the comments for suggestions! If you’re at a loss for something to occupy your Sunday then you might consider seeking out a LP and reading it with a nice cool refreshing soda/nice soothing hot chocolate, depending on local weather conditions!

A Let’s Play is essentially a player taking the viewers/readers through a game, or series of games, by writing about them, showing screenshots, or providing videos with commentary. LPs come in several flavors but the general principle is to show the reader/viewer the mechanics of the game, examples of artwork, music and FMVs, all that sort of thing. Where relevant you’ll see plot exposition, and very commonly people will show secrets, Easter eggs, perform feats of skill, or abuse game mechanics to show how utterly broken some games can become. Some are serious, some are humorous, usually though the idea is to show the game off, whether it’s to encourage everyone to play something really great or to explore the mendacious depths of a truly turgid turd.

Somewhat related to LPs, but often with a greater focus on storytelling or the like, are After Action Reports (AARs), which I’ve written a short example of for this very site. If you have a quick look at that you’ll see what I mean, I’m not talking about mechanics but rather interpreting what happened in a narrative sense, giving it meaning and context – something strategy games like Darkest Hour are very open to.

And some scenarios defy explanation.

A good LP is a great thing; one of the most famous, and one you’ve most probably heard of already, is Boatmurdered. It is an uncommonly hilarious and deeply enjoyable account of a Dwarf Fortress even more doomed than the usual. The fame of Boatmurdered does more than show off the comedic skills of a bunch of goons though; it also had a fairly significant impact on the fame of the game on which it was based, and for an indie game made by a two-man team who rely entirely on donations, this is a fairly big deal.

So as part of gaming’s culture and milieu I think LPs are a great thing, and I really enjoy going through them. Sometimes I read one for a game I thought I knew completely and learn many new things. Sometimes I read one of a game I would never play, and see what others see in it. Sometimes I just find myself tremendously amused.

If you want to find a whole treasure trove of Let’s Plays then the LP Archive is a great place to start. You can also search YouTube and find a vast store of video-based LPs, and various forums have their own sections from Something Awful’s dedicated and vast Let’s Play subforum to Paradox Interactive’s many AAR forums.

Are there any LPs you would recommend to people, any that you’ve found particularly funny, or any that have sparked interest in a game where you had none before? Tell us all about it in the comments below!


When you settle down for a nice long session of gaming, is there anything in particular you like to have to eat or drink along with it? Myself I love a drink of Dr. Pepper to go with my videogames (And it is starting to show on my waistline, sigh) whilst our dear Pike can’t do without her Mt. Dew. I love Mt. Dew myself but good luck finding it over here in England! When I was a kid it was 7-Up all the way, I even played that Cool Spot game, which was surprisingly good!

I tend to actually prefer fruit like satsumas and bananas to anything candy-esque these days, but still a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps (Potato chops for you rebel types) is always welcome as well! A Crunchie bar, or a bag of Cheese & Onion. Tasty way to fill up without needing to turn away from the game!

Oh, thanks AJ! Apples are delicious!

What about you, readers? Do you guys have any particular things you like to eat or drink while gaming? Tell us in the comments!

This weekend!

Okay, I’ve been thinking all day and for the life of me I can’t devise any kind of serious or worthwhile or even flippant and jejune topic for this so, lest I overtax my brain and end up in a febrile state, I shall fall back on something I presciently set up awhile ago: What are you playing this weekend?!

MEIOU Mod for EU3: Divine Wind

Angevin Empire is Best Empire!

The only major mod to be updated for Divine Wind so far, and it’s pretty great. All those new countries! In any strategy game I fetishize alternative countries and scenarios heavily (If Cascadia is available, I play Cascadia) so this pleases Gaga.


No one man should have all dat cobblestone

Because let’s face it, I’m hopelessly addicted now.

Sword of the Stars

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.

I played this a little some considerable time ago and it didn’t click, but I’m giving it another try now because I need the 4X, and it seems to be going better.

Kaiserreich Mod for Darkest Hour

Any and every chance I get!

They’re continuing to work on this thing pretty rapidly, and it’s still great.

And that’s all I can think of! Your turn~

Alpha Protocol

Listen to this while reading and prepare yourself for a fairly shallow bout of sheer enthusiasm about a game I like.

If you’ve heard much about Alpha Protocol, an espionage-based RPG from Obsidian, you’ve probably heard things like “It’s okay”, “Buggy”, “Mediocre”, etc. Metacritic shows that the average hovers around 65% (Slightly higher on the PC version), and it generally has failed to inspire, as well as being confirmed not to have a sequel in the works.

You know what I have to say to that?


Mike Thorton knows how to blend in.

Alpha Protocol is AWESOME. It’s one of the better games I’ve played in the past few years, certainly outside my preferred Strategy genres. Yes, it is a bit rough around the edges due to time and budget constraints and yes, people have reported bugs aplenty (I haven’t encountered anything worse than a graphical glitch myself, but that’s an entirely subjective experience of course). The leveling isn’t perfectly balanced, with pistols and stealth being rather overpowered and some others falling by the wayside.

But these are minor nitpicks in a glorious game. Alpha Protocol has a great cast, a ton of missions, and everything – EVERYTHING – you do has some consequence or another. It might grant you a stat boost, or it might change the entire ending, but whatever you do it’s going to change something. You can choose to kill or spare pretty much anyone in the game, you can take different attitudes towards everyone, and you fight an 80s-obsessed Russian mobster who is coked out of his skull. Unless you do things in a different order and make friends with the right character, in which case you can just poison his cocaine and the fight goes way easier.

The depth and intricacies are amazing and well worth it by themselves, but the gameplay is still perfectly solid even if not exceptional and let me tell you, pulling off a perfect stealth run makes you feel like a total badass. So if you get the chance, don’t listen to the critics, listen to me and play it!

If you’ll forgive the soapbox

Original from CNN.

And now, my new and improved verison:

Feel free to have this reaction.

I was visiting my nephews, again. Within seconds of seeing me fiddle with my Kindle, my older nephew, Jack, who is 8, asked me, again, if my Kindle had any books on it.

“Uh, no, sorry Jack,” was my reply, letting a white lie skip through my teeth. I knew his mother and father might be none too pleased to see the two of us hunched over the tiny screen reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

What his parents are doing is difficult. They’ve chosen to keep Jack book-free for as long as possible. Of course, Jack has gotten a taste of books. He gets to read on special occasions, and will probably read at friends’ houses where the rules are different.

I suspect his parents will persist until they can’t hold out any longer, until peer pressure from schoolmates, combined with the reality that kids of Jack’s generation will be inexorably bound to printing technology like none before them, forces them to relent.

Perhaps it’s a lost cause. Still, key questions can be raised here, and they are good ones to consider. What is the appropriate age to let kids loose in the paperback playscape? Are books OK for 8-year-olds? Seven-year-olds? Six? How young is too young?

Some books are appropriate for certain age groups and some books aren’t; obviously, no one is allowing their 5-year-old to read “The Lord of the Flies.” (Jeezum, let’s hope.)

I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading up on some of the research. For one, the trend is that each year, younger and younger kids are experiencing page time.

This article references a study saying that since 2005, “the average age that U.S. youngsters started to use printed materials had fallen from just over 8 to just over 6 1/2.”

Educational psychologist and author Jane Healy recently wrote: “My position is that children are better off without books before the age of 7. By age 7, their brains have undergone a great deal of maturation and the basics should be in there. They can start to expand the type of thinking they can do so they can actually start to get something worthwhile using good literature, for example, good travel guides.”

To my mind, the issue goes beyond the debatable ill-effects of book violence — which I debunk in this op-ed, suggesting that book violence can be a good thing.

To me, the issue isn’t about fears that books instill violent behavior, but rather that books are usurping the power of more conventional toys. There may be merits to shielding boys and girls like Jack from their vellum futures, at least temporarily, if kids can first learn to amuse themselves without automatically reaching for a bound sheaf.

The truck, the toy sword, the soccer ball, the sandbox, the board game, the pad of paper, the videogame: All can be as magical and entrancing as anything a publishing house can cook up. Perhaps this is the rule of thumb: Once a love of digital play is instilled in young minds and habits, then let kids run free through the wild world of words.

Obviously there are no definitive answers. These are questions that have been discussed on before. But I hope this space can continue to provide an excellent forum to discuss the issues. I’m curious to hear your viewpoints. Please comment below.

And, next time I see my nephew Jack, I’ll have a better idea of how to counter his whining — sweet whining, but whining nonetheless.

Human Revolution

So as you may or may not know, the press preview beta of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was leaked to the general public a couple of weeks back. Using entirely legal methods and the appropriate channels, I have been playing said beta recently, and I’m here to tell you something about it.

But first let’s take a stroll back in time. You’ll recall from my top five games that I rank Deus Ex rather highly, and you may further be aware that this is hardly a rare position to take; it is widely and justly regarded as a true classic of the medium. Then along came Invisible War. Now, I want to stress, I don’t think IW is a bad game per se, I just don’t think it comes close to living up to the standard set by the original.

In today’s climate of nickel-and-dime DLC, two-weapons-only, and ready cash-ins rather than a desire to make a serious game I was therefore deeply skeptical of DX:HR. It sounded like they were saying what we wanted to hear, but just because the PR says something doesn’t mean it’s true. I was not at all convinced that it would be worthy.

Eidos does not make zat kind of mistake!

And you know what? It is. It really, really is a sublime game. It hits all the right notes – the atmosphere is strong and though not as gloomy as 2052, 2027 still has an edge of cyberpunk dystopia to it. The game itself plays very well, and most of all – this is the bit that really sold me – it has divergent solutions to problems. I went a particular path with my augmentations and later found that I really wished I had done otherwise, because a task would have been a lot easier if I had made different choices. That’s far too rare these days, and I deeply appreciate it. The dialog is very solid as well, characters are well-developed and a joy to interact with. And Faridah is my waifu.

Reaction to the leak has been so roundly positive that some rumor it was a deliberate one; I’ve seen no evidence for it (Though a conspiracy surrounding Deus Ex is far too enjoyable to write off entirely), but I can safely say that regardless of who was to blame, it was the single best way to get me on board, and from what I’ve seen around the Internet, a lot of other people feel the same. Further, and to their great credit, Eidos and Square-Enix not only said they’ll take no action against those who play the leak, they have specifically asked for feedback on the forums from people who play it. Don’t know about anyone else, but for me this all adds up to a preorder.

One-shot After Action Report: The Heroes of Ningbo

Just going to throw up a little thing I recently wrote in a game of Hearts of Iron II: Darkest Hour that I played. I was Japan, and I was stunned by how vicious the Chinese defense was. Enjoy!

    The Heroes of Ningbo

For decades the Chinese resistance to the Japanese advances during the Second Sino-Japanese War has inspired patriotism and pride in the Chinese people. It has served as a model for all those who since resisted Japanese rule, from the remains of the Communists to the various abortive warlord attempts at semi-independence from Tokyo. Arguably none are as lauded as the men of the First Battle of Ningbo, Nov. 26th 1938-Jan 3rd 1939 by Western dating.

With a paper strength of just over 70,000, the 18 months of war had left divisions in tatters and brigades missing from the face of the earth, and most historian’s estimates suggest that the true number of Chinese soldiers involved was approximately 56,000. They were led by Field Marshal Tang Shengzhi, who had grown dissatisfied with Premier Chiang’s leadership and perceived personal betrayal, but had nobly put aside these concerns in the name of fighting for China. He had been earmarked by Chiang as the leader for the defense of Nanking but the Japanese amphibious assault on the region had been so rapid that the city fell before the Chinese could muster a defense.

The Japanese forces numbered some 60,000, all regular infantry supplemented by six brigades of Tankettes (Japanese armored car and tank technology having lagged greatly in comparison to the European belligerents of WW2). Having driven Chinese forces out of the surrounding regions of Jinhua and Wenzhou, the Chinese had been cut off in Ningbo and its environs. Some of the units had been stationed in the region for some time but the majority were those who had hastily and continually retreated from the fighting in the north. Nevertheless Tang managed to inspire his men – who were at this stage a rather ragtag group of KMT troops, absorbed warlords, and refugees from the Communist enclave which the Japanese had so brutally overrun in the spring of 1938.

Cut off, surrounded, and stalwart to the last.

Armed with outdated equipment, run ragged by over a year and a half of constant retreats and fighting, the men in Ningbo were given a stark speech by Field Marshal Tang as the Japanese drew close. A British emigrant to China in the 1900s who lived in the city had the foresight to record the speech as he sheltered a Chinese soldier who had been wounded in the fighting, and this is generally taken as the definitive copy thereof.

“Men, we have come here from many paths. I have myself served both the Kuomintang government and have served some who oppose them. I know among you are soldiers from all over China, some of whose homes are now in the hands of the vicious Japanese, some of whose remain behind out lines. It makes no matter now: We are all Chinese, and while these eastern barbarians remain on our soil we have no differences, we have no ideologies, except liberation of China for the Chinese!

“I will not lie to you. We face a grim task. Many of us shall perish in the coming battle. Our enemy, barbarous as they are, are well-equipped and well-trained. We make do with outdated and mismatching equipment, scrimped from local collections or donated by friends abroad. But we have things they do not: We fight for our homes! We fight for our country! And we fight in land excellent for defense! We have already put much effort into preparing our defense positions, and any Japanese advance shall come at a high cost in blood.

“We know taking Ningbo is crucial to the Japanese advance along the southern coast of China. As long as we remain here their forces are tied down. So do not hope for only survival! China depends on us! Hope that our actions, whether we win or lose, whether you live or die, cost the Japanese time! Every day we hold them here is a day for our brothers to train. Every hour we hold them is an hour for new guns to be built or bought, for trenches and pillboxes to be dug and built. I cannot promise you all survival, for we know the brutality of the Japanese even to those who surrender. But I can promise you victory, if you do your duties and hold to the last!”

Stunningly, the defense of Ningbo went even better than Tang had dared to promise. Casualties were very high on both sides; over 12,000 Japanese dead (Their second-highest losses until that point, only exceeded by the Battle of Yan’an) and over 15,000 Chinese estimated dead among the military alone. Yet with their outdated equipment, poor training (Only two of the seven Chinese brigades were infantry proper. The rest were militia units.), and near-total lack of heavy equipment, without hope of retreat or escape, and with supplies rapidly dwindling, the tenacious Chinese forced the Japanese attackers to withdraw after five weeks of brutal combat.

To the eternal chagrin of Tokyo, their second assault on Ningbo went little better than the first. Despite using fully rested and reinforced units, naval bombardment, air support, and facing an encircled and trapped enemy, the Second Battle of Ningbo lasted from January 30th until February 28th. Casualties on the Chinese sides were considerably lower – the Chinese had had time to dig in formidably and could repel the Japanese attacks with much greater ease. The Japanese lost almost 16,000 troops in the second battle. For the Chinese some reinforcements had been drawn from the locals of the region – not exactly front-line troops, but the few weeks of training had allowed at least a few hundred more vaguely competent soldiers to face the Japanese. Moreover, some dozens of brave souls had volunteered to assist Ningbo and had traveled there on supply ships, which faced increasingly dangerous Japanese interdiction attempts.

It was not until mid-April, when new units who had recently been readied in the Home Islands arrived in Wenzhou, that the IJA was finally able to crack the nut that was Ningbo. It cost them a total of over 60,000 lives, held up the Japanese advance along the coast for four months, and required the reallocation of two full IJN fleets to provide offshore support as well as four wings of the IJAAF’s air fleet, and a doubling of the commitment of troops from 6 divisions to 12.

It was not enough to stop Japan. But the defense went down in Chinese history as one of the most tenacious, brave acts of the entire war against the Empire of Japan, and it gave districts further down the southern Chinese coast a great deal of time to recuperate, regain strength, organize themselves, and dig in, making subsequent battles much more costly and difficult for the Japanese. Supplies smuggled in by sea helped to keep the Ningbo army in something resembling fighting condition, and it required an embarrassing degree of effort on the part of the Japanese to succeed in their attack. It was the first time the Chinese had prevailed to such a degree in engaging the Japanese and gave an enormous morale boost to the soldiers who remained facing the Empire throughout China.