loopingworld.com

Books/mythology/stuff discussions moved to: loopingworld.com

This means that the site here won’t (usually) be updated and I’ll eventually copy all of book-related posts over there. The rest of the stuff will stay here for as long the site stays up (not planning of pulling it down for the foreseeable future).

UPDATE: I’ll sporadically still post here, but it will be for writing about roguelike development, tracking my own (lack of) progress, or other quirky gaming things.

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This modern counter-bias

So, it looks like The fantasy side of tabletop Warhammer joins those things that got a “reboot”. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it turned into shit.

It doesn’t take very long, looking at the internet, to see that the response for this reboot has been almost universally negative. The Warhammer fantasy universe has been reset, so all established lore has been canceled, and it was also an opportunity to rewrite the rules and, guess what, make them more “casual”.

The main differences are the focus on a smaller amount of units and more importance given to heroes with special abilities. So a smaller scale to manage where single units make the difference. Beside that, everyone complains that the removal of army points makes the battles simply impossible to balance. And it sounds like a gaping hole of an oversight, however you want to look at it.

It should be evident that they now want a toy, and not a wargame.

But I’m pointing this out to underline two basic trends. One is about these “reboots” that systematically alienate the current players yet gain absolutely no one new. The point here is that it doesn’t take any careful analysis to realize these plans are always terrible ones.

The second trend is that I was reading this article that was doing a good job explaining the situation:
http://www.terminally-incoherent.com/blog/2015/07/04/age-of-sigmar-and-the-end-of-warhammer/

The problem is that it falls in this trend of the “Social Justice Warrior” angle being forced upon everything, which has the only effect of undermining perfectly reasonable complaints. As I said the article makes very good points, so it really wasn’t necessary to also put the load on that silly angle. I’m linking it because it reads like a parody of those same issues.

One of the new things the new rules seem to do is trying to break the fictional layer of the game to engage directly THE PLAYER as a game mechanic. In some kind of parody game it could even be a good, goofy idea, but on the actual Warhammer? It’s beyond stupid.

But I find even more funny that on one side the game rules themselves break the fictional layer, while on the other side the guy writing that article pushes the political agenda onto a fictional game/product. So I guess two wrongs make a right. And so the result is that perfectly reasonable complaints about a very goofy ruleset turn into very goofy complaints, in a kind of circular way.

And so the accusation:
“encouraging players to straight up mock people who suffer from mental illness”

About this rule:
“if, during your hero phase, you pretend to ride an imaginary horse, you can re-roll failed hit rolls”

Uh-oh. So very offensive. Worthy of a crusade. GRAB THE WARHAMMERS!

P.S.
On a more serious note, this way of thinking is dangerous. It’s a weapon of an argument and it is now pervasive in our culture, in plenty of more subtle ways. Blaming people for imaginary intentions. If you ride an imaginary horse while playing a game your INTENTION for doing so is “mock people who suffer from mental illness”. And of course you cannot even defend yourself from the accusation, because the accusation pretends to reveal an HIDDEN purpose, and so that won’t be admitted. Like a dialectic bullet of entitlement. Beware, because this way of thinking is spreading.

A few things about E3

When I was a kid I used to be super-excited about new games being announced, but because of how I’m wired it wasn’t due to me being a kid, but to the different scenario and then things before us.

I was excited when Quake was announced, with the promise of a true 3D engine and a medieval setting with dragons. And I was excited when Final Fantasy 9 was announced, as a return to a more medieval “fantasy” setting, that I liked so much better than the futuristic mishmash more typical of Square, still without losing the sense of wonder and with character design going in the opposite direction of the VIII chapter.

And, in general, new games would push the boundaries of what could be done. Look at the timeline. Just one or two years between each, we went from Wolfenstein 3D, to Doom, to Quake. Since the early 2000s the progress curve has been flattened, and new games simply fail to hype, not because I’m older, but because the value simply isn’t there.

Fallout 4 is a good example. Same engine, but new hardware allowing them to add more foliage and geometry. Still no shame exhibiting horrendous animations. Still terrible combat. Dialogue system turned to utter shit. Removal of all skills. But hey, one really good idea: turn all the clutter into actual useful resources.

And I almost agree with Sarkeesian (who at this E3 has been working hard to troll the internet with the most stupid claims ever), if the modular crafting system wasn’t all about armor and weapon, and more about survival and other tools, the system and potential gameplay would have been nothing short of amazing. But, alas, “streamlining” is the buzzword of shitty design. And that’s what we get nowadays.

Then, Elder Scrolls Online? No one cares about that, and still has no vision of itself and what it is supposed to be. Yet Another Card Games (announced with an handful of concept art screens)? No thanks. Another program launcher to launch programs? No thanks. Dishonored 2? Just CGI trailer, no gameplay being shown, nothing at all being said about the actual game beside it has an option for a female protagonist.

And there’s Doom. Could be worse. This tweet already shows a lot. The idea of an “editor” that simply allows you to paste together pre-made rooms is fucking terrible if they don’t actually give players a real editor when you can edit actual geometry, and from what I read on twitter this is very unlikely. So it’s basically all a fraud. Pasting together rooms is fun and exiting for about 10 minutes. That’s not what made Doom map-making popular.

At least they did get the fact that Doom core is about gameplay and you can’t turn it into a scripted, linear game. So focus on gameplay, action and atmosphere. Problem is that what they’ve shown is problematic. I also thought that even if they do that, then they’d basically have Bulletstorm.

That’s also a problem. That demo looked “nice”, but a kind of nice that could easily be done with Unreal 3 engine (and it would probably run immensely better than whatever tech has ID now). The level design was really poor, and that’s THE feature of a Doom game. And only an handful of monsters on screen. That means they are probably on the right track, but the game currently is very shallow.

EA presentation: utter shit. Nothing to comment.

Ubisoft: look at The Division. This year they replaced their fake/fraud gameplay trailers with one that is actually in-engine and running. It’s obvious because they announced it playable at the show, and because you can observe some flickering textures (glitches are usually a good sign of a non-doctored footage). The problem is that it looks immensely downgraded from the previous two years demos. And now that it look barely average it also lost most of its coolness.

Then Ghost Recon. This is interesting because of the interplay with The Division. On one hand we have a game that comes out of “bullshit trailer” to show real footage, on the other we have a game that just enters now the bullshit trailer phase. The effect is that now people suddenly stop caring about The Division, while Ghost Recon can steal the show.

Until Ghost Recon also exits its bullshit phase, I guess.

Then Sony. They obviously win by the biggest margin imaginable, but. The Last Guardian is not there to awe us with a scripted jumping scene. Is that Uncharted? If depth of interaction is replaced by scripted scenes then we simply get a shitty game.

Final Fantasy VII. Beside universal hype there’s the fact they’ve shown nothing at all. The CG wasn’t even THAT good if it didn’t have that brand. So? That’s a game that can be a total failure or total success depending how you do it. And no one can guess how they are going to do it. A good idea would be to keep it classic, turn based, but with polished and deep systems. Streamlining here will simply kill it. Making it “realistic” or real-time would kill it too. So the way it would work great would be like Pillars of Eternity to Baldur’s Gate: something that at least aims to enhance the core, maybe radically, but without transforming it. So, great idea, but with very good chances of fucking it up.

Shenmue? Beside the ridiculous contradiction of an “indie” kickstarter begging for money on the biggest stage (it’s like EA launched a Kickstarter for the next Fifa game), this is still a game series that was built on the hugest budgets imaginable. How can this work out for a respectable Shenmue 3? No idea, no explanations given. Just BELIEVE!

Horizon? That looked fucking cool. And because I’ve seen this happen, and because this is the Killzone team, that’s also load of bullshit. So wait next year (or two) to see what the real game looks like.

See the pattern? This E3 is about two things:

1- It is about a lot of hype for vaporware games. Games only shown as CGI, that barely exist as ideas. That’s how hype works: if you show something completely undefined, people will complete it with their wishes and imagination. That is going to be nothing like the final product. An endless cycle of hype and disappointment.

2- Most of all other games, and those that are real, are all games that look behind instead of ahead. From Doom, passing through The Last Guardian, to Shenmue, we only have classics of the past. But are they connected to something? Do they know their roots or are they just aping their own identity?

No new game seems to actually show you something that you REALLY can hype. That you see and think it is INDISPENSABLE right now. Battlefront looks good, but it’s Battlefield with Star Wars skins.

The industry seems only being able of looking behind and digging out old bones. Having an history is extremely important, but what I observe is BOTH a critical failure in understanding what’s good in what’s left behind, and another failure on the vision of things ahead.

And only hardware and graphics can brute-force things onward.

Things to say about The Witcher 3

I have lots of stuff in the archive to put on BOTH blogs but I keep delaying that. For now here’s some bitching about The Witcher 3, even considering the engine is not too bad, after all.

– There was a downgrade (between real game and old trailers) and it was significant. All areas were hit: lighting is different, vegetation completely changed, clip plane murdered, object geometry reduced, pop-in detail, and NPC density. While the real game looks pretty, it still looks like a pretty, modern computer game, as opposed to the visual marvel the trailers showed. To anyone with minimal technical competency those trailers were very obvious “frauds”, you didn’t have to wait the game and be surprised that that sort of quality is out of reach.

– While until a week ago the official word was: “fixed 60 fps ultra preset on a 980″. The actual truth is quite far from that. With everything maxed a 980 averages around 40-50 fps, depending on how demanding/rigorous is the benchmark. In any case, this is a game that had multiple delays, before the latest ones it was expected for early 2014, so this was a game PLANNED to run on hardware that precedes Nvidia 9xx class, this BEFORE the downgrade. So take the best class videocard at that time, a 780 TI. It means they wanted us to believe that a 780 Ti could run this game well on the kind of graphic before the downgrade. Yeah.

Breakdown:
770 class videocard = 30 fps at high, maybe with some non-intensive ultra
970 class videocard = 60 fps at high/ultra mix (Hairworks off)
980 class videocard = 60 fps ultra (Hairworks off)
PS4 usually at 30 fps, with mostly high settings (foliage is high, shadows medium, worse LOD but it looks like shadows on the long range are better than on PC regardless of setting)

Watch Dogs and AC:Unity have seen massive outrage from the public, and that should tell you how much perception counts. The Witcher 3 is still rather buggy, seems to crash a lot on PC (especially at weird points, like looking through the inventory), has seen a more significant downgrade compared to those games. Yet, it is a better game overall, and especially a flavor not so trite and shallow as Ubisoft games. Still, everyone is more than willingly to close an eye to the many technical problems (and gameplay, and very bad controls).

So, on one hand it’s understandable that The Witcher is much better received despite its technical problem. It is largely the game everyone expected, whereas Watch Dogs and AC:U were both a technical failure on top of VERY stale (and for the most part shallow, uninspired) design. On the other hand CDP is too much fan favorite despite not really having earned that position.

The engine does one good thing, and it is requiring low CPU usage overall. Yet it’s incredibly taxing on the GPU, to unjustifiable levels. Why? What people see on screen is mostly about those red light tones, and vegetation. Vegetation runs on middleware, an engine CDP bought. It’s literally about buying an engine and then buying individual trees from a library they offer you.

SpeedTree, the engine that powers trees, grass and wind effects, has been really, really bad at performance since its early days of integration with that bad other piece of middleware that is Netimmerse/Gamebryo. SpeedTree is what you saw in Oblivion and DAoC. Same engine. Sure it can look pretty, but that’s all your processing power being spent entirely on a poorly optimized vegetation simulator.

So no real surprise at The Witcher running so badly. It’s a bit like Hairworks, but mandatory for the experience.

(another technical detail: if you notice the benchmarks largely favor AMD cards. This is totally unexpected since this is a Nvidia-optimized game and AMD didn’t even release a custom driver for it, as Nvidia did. So what’s the reason for AMD winning so easily without even putting an effort on it? SpeedTree again. It’s likely that wind physics and other physics simulations run on “Compute” and traditionally Nvidia cards are usually bottlenecked way more than AMD on that specific feature.)

Beside that, there’s significant pop-in about objects and actors, delivered through that ugly dithering effect that seems to be a default of DX11.

Just think if, instead of those gorgeous trailers that made CDP win so many awards even if the game was years from release, just think if they showed this instead (specifically from 1:25 to 1:48):

Entire buildings warping and morphing in and out of existence, textures missing. And that’s the patched game. I’m quite sure that if they showed that footage they wouldn’t have won so many prizes.

And that’s the problem. Looking back, they win. This practice of being deliberately dishonest and going for what’s convenient for that moment has paid off. They get glowing reviews all over the place, with minor notice for bugs and technical problems.

Anyway, you might still want to enjoy the game for what it offers. If you have a 770 class videocard (or better), and you still want the best performance without losing video quality where it matters, here are my tips:

– Turn OFF that pointless in game sharpness filter and anti-aliasing (replaced by SMAA, look down)
– Turn OFF Hairworks (it’s not worth the watts even if you have the hardware for it)
– SSAO looks better than HBAO. Use SSAO for better performance.
– Foliage range HUGELY affects performance, especially going from high to ultra. So keep on high.
– Foliage density has a small impact, but “medium” actually looks better than “ultra”. Use medium.
– Shadow quality medium looks decent enough. Use medium. (LOD levels are unaffected regardless of setting)
– Ultra/High texture quality, no difference at all. Ultra only caches more textures. (so 2Gb cards are perfectly fine on high)
– Set other settings like water detail, detail level, terrain, all to “high”. Most of these have currently no effect at all, so it’s all placebo.

THEN (following tweaks come at very little performance costs).

Download latest SweetFX:
https://sfx.thelazy.net/downloads/

SweetFX 2.0 (Preview 8 | ReShade 0.18.4)

– Open the archive and dump the content in the witcher /bin/x64/ where the game .exe also is.
– Rename the ReShade64.dll file to dxgi.dll
– Run the game once to make sure it runs (as soon the game start you should see some text saying it’s running)
– Exit.
– Go into SweetFX directory and edit SweetFX_settings.txt look at all the effects and make sure only USE_SMAA and USE_LUMASHARPEN are set to 1
– Scroll down to the LumaSharpen part and make sure the numbers are like this:

(I’ll have to check later for actual numbers, for now keep at default or tweak as you like)

If you want to tweak more you can always alt-tab, edit and save the .txt and tab back into the game. The settings are always loaded dynamically as soon you save the .txt

Some screenshots.

Vanilla: http://www.cesspit.net/misc/w3a.jpg
Dark Souls edition: http://www.cesspit.net/misc/w3b.jpg
Vanilla again: http://www.cesspit.net/misc/w3c.jpg
Final tweaks: http://www.cesspit.net/misc/w3d.jpg

(Dark Souls edition means I simply used the profile I was using for that game. The final tweaks are more conservative and only apply proper anti-aliasing with some sharpening to improve the look of grass, if you squint)

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A note on World of Warcraft

I just noticed on twitter a report that WoW’s subs dropped substantially again.

This follows a predictable high peak after the expansion release in November, but the news here is that in 5 months not only they completely lost all the subscriptions they gained, but they are also now at an all-time low since release, and of course there isn’t going to be an expansion to change things again anytime soon.

I don’t follow WoW, but I had a passing interest in the expansion and followed just enough to realize it was doing very bad design mistakes on almost all levels possible. In particular they went for a busywork style of play that required you to complete a few daily tasks. That’s fine, as a way to try to keep retention, but this also means they reduced the game to JUST a formula. That gets old very quickly.

So: the short-term good, long-term bad kind of design. WoW has gone downhill in game design since after Wrath of the Lich King. Cataclysm was a good idea, but all the good game design that the game had aplenty has been systematically siphoned out ever since.

This to say: WoW isn’t leaking subscriptions because it’s old, or even because of (mostly shitty, if you exclude FFXIV) competition, but because the WoW of today is even WORSE than the original WoW. Not only this game was unable to progress as every MMORPG is required to if it wants to continue to exist, but it went backwards.

The simple fact that the expansion brought back so many players, and none of them stayed, is the sign of how bad the game has become. People WANT to play and love WoW, but what’s left of it is an empty shell.

For the record, another MMORPG also working hard to go backwards is now Guild Wars 2. Good luck with that expansion, too.

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Randomness being too random

I just noticed this interesting line in Darkest Dungeon patch notes:

  • Selective RNG shaping and tuning to prevent unintended edge cases.

The problem of Random Number Generation is always an interesting one in games. Even after coding a rather advanced and rigid system in my roguelike project I still had the feeling that numbers weren’t quite as random as they should be.

But that’s the point: it’s the human perception to be broken.

So that’s the idea behind “RNG shaping”. You add non-random rules to randomness so that, for example, you won’t get ten “tails” in a Heads or Tails game. Because if that happened you’d think the game isn’t really working.

Accurate randomness would make randomness feeling not enough random. So we shape it to make it work more like our broken perception of it :)

Game design: Pillars of Eternity and character creation

INTRO:
Me to my brother: “hey, there’s another game beside Bloodborne that got 93 on metacritic.”

His answer: “Pillars of Eternity? Who cares. That game is born old.”

People on the internet: “I really hope this sells a lot and publishers take notice of this and see the very presence of a large audience that doesn’t want/need focus tested, dumbed down games.”

And me? Pillars of Eternity is an example of modern design that dumbs down the games we loved.

DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS. IT WOULD BE BAD.


I was reading how Pillars of Eternity revolutionizes RPG rules:
http://www.polygon.com/2015/3/25/8284763/how-pillars-of-eternity-rewrites-the-rules-for-role-playing

Since I’m dealing with similar design issues let’s be polemic. The specific argument here is character creation. They try to fix the problem where you can potentially create a character that sucks. They say it’s bad.

Spoony summarizes well why it’s not, watch from minute 19:35 to 24:30, where he actually talks about point allocation, “you are a bunch of pussies and coddled babies”, “THEY THINK THEY ARE BEING RETRO”:

Of course I thought about that, and of course it’s not a new problem, and classic RPGs all tackled it in some way. Most of the recent D&D versions give you a number of methods to create a character, and you can definitely see a general trend going from early RPGs to the late ones. In ancient times it was all about the dice. There are systems where you roll everything. You roll for your age, race, class, statistics, profession and so on. This means it’s all random and the “fun” is just to roleplay whatever comes up. Even if what comes up is a beggar covered in rags and without a leg.

In a actual RPG with people this might be a little easier, but it’s not very fun if you play a computer one with a set content that requires some minimal competence (in doing the tasks). And so you see the trend in modern games. You don’t roll anymore the dice, but you use a “point system”. Where you can purchase improvements, maybe with an adaptable system where higher values also cost more points.

Is there a good solution? Nope, that’s the point. There’s never one better solution. A point system has the negative consequence of making every character the same. If I make a warrior then I’ll put the points in similar things, if I make a wizard I’ll go for high Intelligence. Since the point system is more “balanced” the result is in characters that have very little diversity.

It’s the reason for my system I went for a classical solution. I want to see a system that offers a lot of variance, and that also means that it should cover all types, from those that are awful to the walking demi-gods. I like a system that is potentially open to everything, more than a “game” system where all characters are just “game classes”.

That’s a basic difference between an actual RPG system, that builds a world. And a game system, that builds a game.

Pillars of Eternity went for the game system. Instead of having statistics that define a character for what it is (personality, aspect, physical and mental qualities), they decided to only use statistics that are exclusively combat related, and class-generic (which is their idea of innovation).

Instead of Strength, they have “Might”. Which is no actual Strength, like what you can lift and carry. Nope, Might is just a damage bonus, and it applies to all possible damage. So you are a wizard, your magic dart will deal more damage if you have more Might. Or “Intelligence”, that increases your area of effect or duration. Even if you use some melee skill.

Guess what? None of this is new. Blizzard, who would sacrifice all RPG substance for game-y purposes, has removed the stats point allocation in Diablo 3. The moment you remove the idea of numbers that define your character, you have essentially a talent system. Or a modular system where instead of putting together incremental bonuses you instead assemble modules of “effects”. Which is usually better received by players since you juggle “fun” skills, instead of meaningless +0.1 increments (and this is the whole axis that divides Diablo 3 from, say Path of Exile).

That happened to World of Warcraft too. Out goes the talent system where you juggled a myriad of incremental effects, in goes the system where you juggle an handful of skills/modules. Streamlining ALWAYS DEMANDS MORE STREAMLINING.

Pillars of Eternity solution isn’t smart or even innovative. It’s an half-assed compromise who had the only purpose of doing what Blizzard did, but without giving the impression they went that way (and so pissing off those who expect an actual RPG). It’s THE MEDIOCRE MIDDLE-GROUND. Where you are too scared of going “all in”.

The fundamental difference between designing a consistent system that builds a world, so all scales, all characters, from the crappiest one to the god-like immortal status. To a system that builds a “game”. Where the system only knows and builds “balanced” tools. Where every character is merely a combat-oriented device, and the only definition it has, and the choice you have, is what kind of attacks you want to perform. That is no different than deciding what kind of weapon to use or power-up in God of War. The “character” is no more. Streamlining cuts the corners. To cut your cardboard character they give you scissors with a rounded point so you don’t cut yourself and make a “bad” one.

The problem is that Pillars of Eternity doesn’t know what it is. It is legitimate to go for the second style of system design, but once you go there you should know what you’re making. If you decide that statistics have to be always balanced and only applying to combat, then BETTER games have figured out that at that point it’s good to abandon +1 increments to make players juggle more hefty modules that are directly more interesting. A character is no more.

Pillars of Eternity offers what is essentially a spell-making tool. Take this damage component, add this area of effect. But since you don’t have control on the actual spell (beside picking a class), you end up with a system where those fixed choices are applied to ALL “spells”. And in the end it means this point allocation really creates no concrete difference. No actual impact. It doesn’t give you control or choice on something that is actually interesting, since it’s just +1 bonuses applied across the board, and since everyone has the same numbers because the system needs to be “balanced”.

So the conclusion is that Pillars of Eternity first emptied the classic statistics system. Then kept it there, as a relic of old times, modified in a way so that it becomes a modular system, but not completely. It’s a partial fix that doesn’t fix anything. That doesn’t innovate anything. Because it only comes out from a type of design triggered by an identity crisis: of being a computer game that also wants to be a classic RPG. If they think character customization needs to be tightly controlled to avoid “bad” characters then you should have the courage to hand out the character and removing the point allocation, since it concretely does nothing at all and is only kept there as an illusion of control, while thinking players are gullible enough to not see it through for what it is.

Game designers who want to make classic RPGs even if they don’t know what they are. And so make copies that are empty, soulless shells, that have nothing of what make the originals good.

A copy, of a copy, of a copy. With the original image progressively fading. There’s AD&D, then there’s Baldur’s Gate, and then there’s Pillars of Eternity, who thinks “knows” batter than AD&D and so goes to “improve” it. Poor fools. There’s no AD&D left there, only an empty shell that, for the kind of game they make, is only baggage.

If I say all this it is because elegant modern game design is frequently starting to take shape around “afterimages” (it’s happening for Dark Souls-likes too). Only the last stage is remembered, vaguely. The one before is forgotten. So is lost the origin of those mechanics and their purposes, their history. The fact is: without memory you can’t expect to fix or improve anything.

A classic, Pillars of Eternity, is not. Being a classic requires memory.

Roguelike: Ranged combat rules

Pasting here my considerations on range combat rules. Maybe someone else can find this interesting. I'm also open to suggestions.

Of course with the awful coding skills I have even implementing a rough shell of all this will take me forever. But at least IT SEEMS there's nothing technical that looks impossible.

In the end my game will never become real, but MAYBE someone will be inspired and will go down the same path :)


Now that I have a rough line function that deals properly with FOV and walls I think I have the technical basis to start integrating some form of ranged combat into the actual game combat. But I figured out that before I can do that it's better if I have a good idea of the ruleset I'm going to use and all the features it needs to have.

Of course I'm not inventing anything here, so I went looking how ranged combat works in various rulesets, taking out the individual features I like, and then integrate them into my own system. The goal even here is that the number of "moving parts" determines the actual depth and complexity of the game. So more moving parts, more potential complexity. On the other side the system needs to be "realistic" so that these moving parts behave consistently. This means that if they do behave consistently then the game mechanics may be complex, but also intuitive.

So here's the various points I'd ideally cover:

  • While a sword usually has the Strength stat adding to the damage, a bow only have its own fixed Strength. This means the character stat only determines if a bow is usable or not, but if in excess the Strength is not added to that of the bow, which is fixed (realistically).

  • Knock and draw delay. Since there's going to be a rough facing mechanic, I can determine if a character is being actively "threatened" in melee. If so you just can't knock and draw the arrow or bolt. If instead the arrow was already prepared, then of course it can also be shot at point blank. Knock and draw delays are fixed (maybe with a small "Agility" bonus) and happen automatically as long a ranged weapon is equipped. Swapping from melee to range of course takes some time.

  • I'm integrating an aiming mechanic by default. Preparing an arrow is not enough to shoot properly. The idea is that I'll use the character's Dexterity attribute. The Dexterity determines the speed at which the skill "fills out". If for example a character has 80% in the bow skill, he still can't simply draw and shoot. It takes time to take aim, and this time slowly fills up the skill. So for example in a round a character might fill 50% of his skill. Meaning that our guy with the skill at 80% gets an actual 40%, if he waits one more round he might get to 65% and only after waiting a third round he might shoot at his full 80%. This because since I have a classless system I also want to avoid a scenario where characters eventually max all their skills and so end up identical. If stats matter then it means a mage might focus on the bow skill and become very good with it, but the Dexterity still determines the time it takes to "fill out" the skill value, and so affecting directly the rate of fire. Meaning that in the end there's a potential for a great archer, but not one that was built precisely with that goal.

  • Range is divided in tiers (and tiers depend on the weapon stats). Every tier adds a fixed penalty to the roll. This obviously means that firing at long range makes the target much harder to hit. The penalty is fixed, meaning that a character with a lower skill might be completely crippled. If the penalty matches the character's skill then the shot is simply impossible (unless he rolls a lucky critical).

  • Another penalty depends on the movement of the target. Whereas range penalty is fixed, the movement penalty is proportional to the character skill. So the target might move in a way that gives a 25% penalty. This penalty is applied to the skill. If the character has an 80% skill then he shoots at 60%, if he has 40% he shoots at 30%. So it applies proportionally and in a different way to the range penalty.

  • Dealing with actual aim, the possibility to target a precise location. I'll probably handle this so it's based on a "rigged range". In general the location is determined by rolling dice. Taking a precise aim means adding a penalty to the hit roll, and then a bonus to the location roll. The more distance the more the location roll can be actually guided. But this should provide the effect that if you aim for the eyes from far away then you're still more likely to hit the head or upper body rather than the legs.

  • During the flight of the arrow, for each actual target encountered there's a fixed, arrow-based % to hit the target (friend or foe). So if you actually aim to hit something behind something else, the arrow still has to fail a roll to hit the first target in the way. For the actual aimed target the to-hit roll depends on the weapon skill, for accidental targets instead the roll is fixed. And for every target the arrow passes a penalty is added to every consequent roll. Meaning it's more likely the arrow will miss if it passes through multiple targets without hitting, simulating the fact it's likely to hit some piece of armor and get deflected (also simulating the fact it's more convenient to aim at someone in the front, rather than aim someone in the back with the hope the arrow hits someone along its flight. If you aim someone in the back you just make more likely the arrow hits no one at all).

  • Damage is obviously done with the fixed weapon strength as described above, plus the arrowhead type. So there might be arrows that make worse wounds, cause bleeding, or pierce armor, or stun. Stuff like that, but only affecting the damage roll.

All this to explain an idea of design I have: detail and complexity open the way to meaningful combat with interesting mechanics. And it can all work in a simple and intuitive way as long the rules are transparent and behave consistently.

Of course coding all this is an entirely different matter.

Roguelike rarity: classic ToME 2.3.5 + Theme 1.2.0 (Windows binaries)

Currently “ToME” is a roguelike game available on Steam. This post is instead about of an earlier version that is unique and completely different. It (this post) also previously appeared on the Reddit roguelike.

I consider this fairly important because this game is a rarity. This site is partly about recovering precious things that are otherwise left behind, overlooked and forgotten. And recovering that specific flavor that is now lost. This game is probably so huge and “epic” in scope that you’ll hardly ever find again something like it. Its existence depended on a number of things, and that made it unique.

Usually the vanilla Angband should take an experienced player about 20-30 hours to win on a single run. For someone who isn’t as experienced probably at least twice as much (but then you wouldn’t survive very long in that case). Of course playing a roguelike means failing, learning and repeating, so those who play them easily end up putting hundreds of hours into them. In this case this version of ToME can be considered a much bigger version of Angband, so I have no idea what kind of numbers we have here. You could think playing games being an hobby. In this case ToME isn’t part of the hobby, it would make an hobby by itself.

Of course, I like this. I like specifically the ideal of something so big that is outside of human possibilities to play. I like the idea of something so ambitious that its existence is improbable. This game approaches that delicious madness, and so I’m writing about it here.


I was reading on CRPG Addict his report about Moria and so I went looking for the roguelike family tree to see how the game developed. I like longer, epic roguelikes more than those that are fast and repeatable, so the idea of a very long progression and deep character development appealed me (and if you have more suggestions, please add them).

From Moria comes Angband and from everything I read there’s really no reason to prefer Moria. Angband is just a richer and improved version without any downside (it seems). But then I remembered that about a year ago I was looking into the older ToME, an Angband successor with more flavor and content, since someone told me that the newer ToME was much streamlined, and with a comparably smaller world, with shorter dungeons and so on. That piqued my interest and I looked more into that, learning that Tome 3 was a dead end, and that the only “pure” version of ToME that remained was 2.3.5, and that it was only maintained by some guy, with a few bugfixes, only available as source code. So I spent some time trying to compile it on Windows and after a few struggles I finally succeeded.

As far as I figured out, whereas Angband is about a descent down 100 individual levels of dungeons, with one town on top, instead ToME 2.3.5 takes the 100 levels and splits them across a number of different dungeons (Barrow-Downs / Mirkwood / Mordor / Angband) that are then scattered around an explorable world map. This means that they expanded and opened out the structure, creating a wilderness “overworld” zone to explore, with different towns and dungeons. On top of all that they also added another cumulative 260 levels of “optional” dungeons to add to the first number (Orc Cave / Old Forest / Helcaraxe / Sandworm Lair / The Heart of the Earth / Maze / Cirith Ungol / Land of Rhun / Mines of Moria / Small Water Cave / Submerged Ruins / The Sacred Land of Mountains / The Tower of Dol Guldur / Erebor / Mount Doom). But not only, this version of ToME also has built-in an optional module that once again greatly expands the basic game, adding a lot more stuff and more Tolkien flavor all over the place, including more quests, items, monster types and so on. It seemed also very well received, at the time, and since we have the very last version I also hope it’s relatively stable and bug free.

So I’d love to read about experiences about this. The best thing would be if someone decides to revisit it. I have the Windows binaries I compiled, packed with tweaked settings that solved a few issues I was having, so it should be good just unpacking the .zip and run the binary. This version was compiled at the very end of 2013, so one could think it’s outdated, but looking at the source commits absolutely nothing was changed in the meantime. The version appears as 2.4 in the game, but of course only minor bugfixing happened after the official 2.3.5, and as far as I know this could be considered the most up to date and working version of the lost classic ToME (plus the Theme module that expands it).

And, given the amount of content that seems packed there, probably something unique that no other Rogue/Angband/Nethack successor can match.

Anyone want to pick the challenge and try it? I’d like to see reports about how it stands the passage of time and how it matches compared to the other, many, Angband successors. Oh, and it would be great if someone eventually wrote an in-depth guide about the most important ones, because it’s impossible to actually know what sets each apart…

Here the links, one is a screenshot of how it looks out of the box, the other is the zip with the binary:
http://www.cesspit.net/misc/prog/tome4.gif
http://www.cesspit.net/misc/prog/tome2.zip


I’ve played a little bit on my own as a total noob.

The game is still filled with lots of counter intuitive things. For example, if you enter a particular building in the first village you get hit by thieves and put in a jail. You can wake up and escape but as a level 1 you can’t kill the thieves on the level. So restart.

The first level of the dungeon has no stairs going down. Eventually I could find a special room that is locked. After numerous attempts the door opens and inside there are a few bandits and a princess calling for help. I tried, of course, but I was only level 2 and later figured out I didn’t save the allocation of skill points for some reason, and I was even wounded, so died again in two hits.

The third time I wait until level 3, fully healed and with skills allocated. This time I was more careful but the bandits still damaged me a lot, so I retreated toward the exit of the dungeon and when I knew I was safe I tried to land a few more hits before leaving. I was lucky and I was able to kill the bandit, and got enough experience points from that single kill to level up a few times. Whoa! I think I went from level 3 to level 6 straight away. Then when I returned to the princess I found her between two impassable glass walls and had to look up on the internet to figure out what I was supposed to do. It turns out the quest log tells you to kill six bandits, but beside the one I already killed there was no one else around. Eventually I figured out they spawn around the level and appear and disappear from time to time stealing for you. In the meantime something weird also happened and I started to be followed around by a massive amount of “friendly” creatures, including a guy who kept telling me my shoes were unlaced. It was kind of weird. When I finally killed the last bandit the princess said she was free and asked me to pick a reward, and when I returned to her spot there was now the reward on the ground, along with the actual ladder going down…

It takes some time to figure out what the game wants you to do. Other small mechanics, like the need for a light source and food, do not seem annoying as the stuff is very cheap and lasts for a very long time. So, it’s a fun game, but kind of quirky and opaque in the way it works.

This is what the first level looked like:

http://www.cesspit.net/misc/prog/tomel1a.gif

Another version, still level 1:

http://www.cesspit.net/misc/prog/tomel1b.gif

And this is level 2:

http://www.cesspit.net/misc/prog/tomel2.gif