Monday, September 19, 2011

Episode 4: DoomRL

Welcome to this week's episode of Roguelike Radio. Episode 4 focuses discussion on DoomRL, a coffeebreak roguelike by Kornel Kisielewicz. Talking this week are Darren Grey, Andrew Doull, John Harris and Ido Yehieli.

The mp3 of the podcast can be downloaded here, played in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics covered this week include:
- What makes a coffeebreak
- Feature creep in roguelikes
- Annual Roguelike Release Party 2011 (briefly)

Relevant links:
- List of ARRP 2011 games
- @Play review of DoomRL from 2007

Join us next week for discussion of Frozen Depths.


  1. Thanks as always guys. There's also some interesting discussion on talent trees - a continuation of thoughts on progression from last week's podcast.

  2. Great podcast guys. :D

    A few comments though. I would like to talk about your guy's stance on feature creep, especially in relation to user asked features. I think it is kind of silly to put down the developers of roguelikes for creating new features for their fans. At the end of the day, you are the guys that haven't played the game in a year or more. The people who are really devoted to the game and know the game really well are more deserving of any attention they can get from the dev than the fleeting attention of the masses. Especially when you consider that the developers are making a game that is completely free and does not need the mass appeal other games do to pull a profit.

    Besides, if you looked hard enough I am sure you could get a legacy version of the game if you looked long enough. :P

    Also, the most hated levels of nethack is by far Gehennom, not Sokoban. Which ironically shows the potential danger of using too much randomly generated content.

    I have to try out the newest version of DooMRL sometime soon, I was the one who originally suggested the game after all, I should probably play it a bit more.

  3. Scott: This is something I've been thinking a lot of myself, and I think both approaches have their cons and pros.

    For me the argument is that there would be a lot more players who would play the game for a week then players who would play it for a year, and I rather concentrate on content that as many people as possible will actually get to see.

    Also, as a player I was never the one to play nethack for a decade.

    There are a *ton* of games out there and I would like to experience many of them.

    I would ideally like to play a new game for a couple of evenings and get something out of the experience.

    If I've *really* enjoyed a game (like I did with DoomRL, Desktop Dungeon, Osmos, Mineraft and many others) I would like to be able to come back to it and maybe spend a couple of weeks playing (perhaps over a period of many years).

    Few single-player games (in my case Civilization, SimCity & Master of Orion) have captured my attention in such a way that I've spent *months* playing them over the year - if a game manages that I consider it an exceptional achievement, but I don't expect it & I'm certainly not aiming that high as a game developer.

    But perhaps more to the point - it's not about players or catering to high level ones instead of beginners.

    What the conversation really was about was the design and "spirit" of the game - each game has a certain optimal scope, usually the one within an order of magnitude of what the developer originally designed it for (even if they released an early smaller version).

    Games like ToME4 were meant to be big, and even if they early releases were small the scope of the game was always meant to be big and every decision made along the way was in the context of a big game.

    DoomRL (in our opinion) wasn't originally designed/envisioned/meant to be a big game and that is the crux of the matter.

  4. I suppose we came off a bit negative about the fan suggestions thing, and it's certainly worth noting that fans are generally the greatest asset to any game, and most developers would be over the moon to have the sort of supportive playerbase DoomRL has. But whilst most of the fan suggestions in the game are good on their own it's up to the developer to ensure that they join in a cohesive whole without making the game feel bloated.

  5. Yes, I was afraid we came out as opposing it too strongly as well.

    I think DoomRL is for the most part such a good game that the little bits that are somewhat sub-optimal stick out, and we ended up focusing on them, where as if it was an ok-ish 7DRL we would have probably only talked about the couple of cool stuff it does and never mentioned the flaws.

  6. Certainly on my part I had heard such great things about the game before that I was a little disappointed when it wasn't quite what I expected. I'm interested to hear what real fans of the game think.

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  8. @Darren, you were dissapointed with the game, or that it didn't fit what you have heard?

    Apart from that, I will probably write a detailed answer to the issues presented a little later. But first I'd like to point out the funny fact that a few years ago, the main complaint about DoomRL was -- "It is fun, but it is too simple". Now I hear from you "It is fun, but it is too complex"... I guess it's hard to fit everyone's taste...

  9. Yeah, there's no way to please everyone :D I think "too complex" isn't quite what I meant though. The game isn't as quick and easy to play through as it should be. It didn't feel like a proper coffeebreak to me, which is why I was disappointed. I still enjoyed the game, mind, but I had the nagging feeling that it wasn't as it should be.

    It fitted what I had heard in fact. Nice elements like sound from Doom, lots of mad monster killing, fun coded-in challenge games. But it felt like it had some baggage attached onto that.

    Of course you may prefer to put stronger weight on what your community thinks rather than some crusty old devs ;)

  10. Epyon: I don't think the main qualm was that it was too complex, but that it was too *long* (for the amount of content/play-style/scope of the game).

    I think DRM walks a fine line between a coffee-break rl and a "big" rl.

  11. Given how deeply entrenched I am into the DoomRL community, this comment may not have a lot of merit, but I will say it anyway.

    I came around to DoomRL in, a little before, which is fair grounds to say that I don't know the game strictly in its traditional, coffee-break form. As a matter of relative speed of gameplay, however, DoomRL always laid its cards on the table, with a clear goal and no feasible way to get sidetracked, which is why I consider it a great deal faster than the more sprawling roguelikes around. And, although the curve for learning how to effectively make use of the game's ranged-combat mechanics is sharp and sudden, it ends up being a lot more tactics-intensive (that is, having to adapt to the situation rather than being prepared for anything), which is unusually refreshing for a turn-based game. If nothing else, I enjoy how it favors know-how of the mechanics, rather than the content, in being successful, at least on the easier difficulties.

    Feature creep is, as always, a concern when it comes to the development of games with a loose schedule. Consider that DoomRL is somewhat of a playground, trying out variations of its simple principles in order to provide more depth to the game. It's quite possible to ignore all the mods, special weapons, and special levels, and still play the game with relative success, and building a character up as he gains levels is usually as simple as picking a master trait and optimizing its function afterward. Overall it tends to improve the game's replayability without adding a lot of clutter. If you're keen on wanting to play a shorter game, there's always the haste challenge (which doesn't take a lot to unlock).

    Fortunately, there should be an appeal to everybody soon enough. DRL2's engine has been getting a lot of attention, so we could see some betas out over the course of a few months or so. The first part of DRL2 will be "classic" mode, which will act as a bare-bones, streamlined version of the game (probably similar to its roots) that comes with a huge number of potential add-ins, which would include challenges, special equipment, special levels, and so on and so forth. Ultimately it will work a lot like DoomRL is now, except everything is as mandatory or as optional as you want.

    Anyway, when it comes to the pace once you're used to it, I can play through DoomRL on an easy difficulty in 45-60 minutes, and that wouldn't even be trying to rush. It may not be quite as coffee-break as it used to be, but I still think of it as a quick game, somewhat similar to the feel of Gauntlet. Considering it's possible to win in under 10 minutes, there's still room for a coffee break.

    (Also I apologize about this in advance but I happen to have some videos showing me playing DoomRL, if you want to use them as examples for what you think is good and not so good about the current version. Link:

  12. I think you folks are underestimating the UI paradigm shift that you are suggesting when you say "just use right-click to shoot". Your normal RL controls are right hand on the directional or numpad and left hand hovering over the "ASDF" keys. In this configuration, the right hand is responsible for movement and the left for invoke 's'earch, 'f'ire and 'z'-magic. This is why I cringe when an RL developer makes an activity like 'i'nventory a regular activity because it forces the player to like down at the keyboard, breaking up the flow of the game.

    Now, if you have Right-click to shoot, now the player's right hand is on the mouse and the left is probably moved to the FPS-style "WASD" position. You now have a completely different control layout. You can go with the FPS-standard "WASD" movement and target with the mouse, adding buttons for inventory and other actions like Cardinal Quest does, but that makes ASCII a lot harder to work with (ASCII buttons, really?) and pretty much limits you to 4-directional movement. You can go with mouse movement all the way (move on left-click, attack on right-click), but the turn-based aspect of RLs is a problem here making it a problem where the player clicks on a distant point and the character happily trots across the map while a bunny of malevolence +5 nibbles them to death. Close-in movement is also difficult to handle properly with a mouse. I've been prototyping a hybrid version that uses "WASD" to move towards, away, or around the mouse cursor as part of a run-and-gun RL but it never really feels right.

    tl;dr version: Right-click to shoot is an interesting option, but it is an expensive one in terms of UI

  13. Burzmali: A sensible roguelike will not have you trotting numerous steps whilst under attack - left click will move you once, and then the operation will cancel due to interruption. Every roguelike with an extended walk ability has this feature, whether mouse-controlled or not. DoomRL I think would most benefit mouse use, as it has so few other commands than moving and shooting (with maybe middle-click to reload) make up 90% of your commands. The biggest problem I have really is that the most common non-movement command (shooting) involves two button presses, or more if you want to fire in a non-standard way, when it could so easily be simplified to one click. And mouse targeting obviously involves a lot less looking at your keyboard, so it's more immersive for the game.

    T A Birkel: Thanks for your feedback. I guess part of the problem is I was expecting a coffeebreak, as were those that had played it when it was a coffeebreak. I do still feel the game is too long for the amount of tactics you really have available, with many levels getting almost tiresome by the end. I'd love to play the Angel of Haste version, but I'll be damned if I have to sit and get the unlocks to play the game properly (plus there's still the issue of portability on that - how am I supposed to unlock these things on my work break?)

  14. Darren Grey: It's not that simple. If a monster is visible, does that count as 'attacking'? What if it has a ranged attack but its range is less than your sight, should your movement be interrupted? What if the monster doesn't have a ranged attack, but your click will move you very close to it? If a monster appearing will interrupt movement, what if you are being chased down a corridor, will you have to click each step? If you use the brogue model of ignoring onscreen monsters if the player auto-moves, how do you deal with ranged attackers?

    I've yet to see a RL made that is both tactically diverse and mouse controlled. That said, I am trying to make one myself, so I think the problem is surmountable, I just don't think that anyone has a good solution yet.

  15. Yet another great episode. Keep it up guys! I have a small suggestion: Most of you guys are pretty well known to the RL community, but I think it would be a good idea to have a quick presentation of you here on the blog.

  16. Burzmali: Stop movement if enemy in sight or damage taken. Yeah, it can be annoying running away down a corridor, but it's better than death by interface. ToME4 is a good example of a tactical game with lots of movement in combat that plays very nicely with either mouse or keyboard. Extremely customisable mouse features too (including gestures and context based commands).

    Bjorn: Hmm, profiles on the right bar might not be a bad idea. We'll have a think...

  17. Darren Grey: I'm not trying to be overly argumentative, but Doom is a tactical shooter, you go in and run around like a maniac trying to dodge fireballs and stay out of the range of cacofiends while blasting away as fast as you can. So, while in a melee oriented game like ToME, making the cursor the focus of both movement and actions works well, in a game like DoomRL you are going to have a lot of extra mouse movement when you want to shoot at a long range target to the north while moving east.

  18. Sorry if I came across as argumentative! I agree mouse control isn't for every game, and certainly isn't for every player. I also believe that keyboard control is generally much faster when you get used to it. I think mouse control's a relatively easy extra to support though, and many players will enjoy it, especially those unused to the controls (DoomRL has kinda odd movement keys). And personally I prefer keyboard for melee and mouse for ranged classes in ToME4, but everyone has their own preferences.

  19. I think the bigger hurdle is getting a run-and-gun RL or a Doom style to successfully movement with firing a weapon. In both cases, you really should be able to move while firing, allowing feats like cutting through a swarm of attackers and making a steady retreat while spraying an oncoming hoard.

    Titan of Steel, a turn-based mecha combat game, handles this be having 2 sets of actions, movement and attack, that that are executed independently (to some extent, moving and firing reduces accuracy, etc). It's a good system, but it has one of the steepest learning curves I have every experienced.

  20. Gasp! You mentioned my game, 100 Rogues :D :D

    Great podcast! Keep 'em coming. Also, I'd love to be a guest sometime!

  21. And I'd love to hear Keith be a guest some time. I still recommend 100 Rogues as my favorite iPhone game, but that could just be my inner roguelike enthusiast speaking. : D

  22. I love Roguelike games. I actually started programming so I could cheat at the DOS port of Moria back in the day.

    I have a few general comments/suggestions:

    1. When talking about Roguelikes with music and/or sound effects, can we actually hear a sample? It should be covered by Fair Use, and you are talking about the product after all.

    2. A lot of my podcasts (even audio books!) have intro/outro music and it always makes it feel a little more polished. We're not talking about 3 minute podcasts where intro music doubles the length, we're talking about chunky hour-long podcasts. I would like you to consider using intro/outro music. If you are in want of a song you can legally use, I might point you toward: -- It's a song about Nethack distributed under a Creative Commons attribution license.

    3. Are the blog comments the only way all feedback will be handled?

    3a. Forums have handy features where you know when someone talks about an older subject (and the listeners can start their own threads -- such as a thread for RLs to review). I follow at least one podcast that has a forum at -- I think the Escape Artist podcasts dropped support of adding comments to the posts in favor of having everyone use the forum.

    3b. Will feedback ever be discussed in-show? I know shows that have a show-specific email address and accept both written and recorded feedback which they later air (slightly edited at times) on the show.

    3c. Since you mention the game you'll be reviewing, it is possible to have others mail-in their own opinions about the game. Have you considered this?

  23. 1. Something to consider in future, but hopefully those listening will go out and play the games being discussed!

    2. We considered intro/outro music, but it's hard to come up with a suitable "sound" for roguelikes. I'm not sure a song about Nethack cuts the mustard. We're open to more suggestions though, as it would indeed help the podcast sound vaguely professional.

    3. Further discussion can be found here:
    There's not really enough of a crowd for forums at the moment, plus RogueTemple is a nice place for everyone to discuss lots of roguelike things.

    If we think feedback is worthy of discussion then we may bring it up, but given the single game focus of each episode we don't want to end up always retreading old ground. It's hard enough sticking to time as is! Pre-episode feedback/opinions may be of note, but at the same time it's not easy to express someone else's opinion accurately in a conversation, so it would depend on the situation. Discussion in comments and on RogueTemple are very much welcome though.

    These are still early days for the podcast, and though I believe we have gotten off to a nice start I'm also very aware that the format may change significantly dependant on what listeners want to hear. So we're all ears on feedback, and happy to hear about what we're getting right and wrong.

  24. I played DoomRL a couple of versions back, and the use of sound actually irritated me a bit since there was no visual option and it left you with a significant disadvantage if you wanted to listen to an audiobook/podcast/etc. instead. IIRC ammo was well-balanced though; it wasn't an issue on the easier difficulties, but the harder difficulties had boatloads more enemies to shoot and of course the earlier demons began appearing then the less human bodies there were to loot ...

    There were a few features that could have been culled without losing much (fiddling around with mods to get exact super-weapons, dozens of unique weapons that had almost no chance to ever spawn and were only effective with certain traits anyway >_>) but I'd argue that it still held to a coffee-break design:

    The controls were still much simpler than most other roguelikes with similar weight and the unlocks guide players along the smooth difficulty curve. It might not be easy for a casual player to win in their actual lunch break, but it's very 'pick up and play' so you could spread it over a couple of days without forgetting anything important. As has been mentioned, moving and shooting is 95% of all you have to worry about, with a little resource management or careful use of power-ups only mattering much on higher difficulties. And unlike traditional roguelikes where you lose countless times before gloriously winning with one successful character, DoomRL's challenge/achievement system means that completing the game amounts to dozens of bite-sized wins spread out over time.

    It's not perfect, but IMHO DoomRL does a pretty good job of keeping itself quick and easy for newcomers while adding depth and difficulty to keep experienced players around for as long as any *band.

  25. This is a game I often recommend to people that aren't RPG fans, but I am not 100% sure I'd use it as an introduction to the roguelike genre. It IS amazingly fun though, and I found myself quite amazed at how well a fast paced action game (and Doom is still one of the fastest moving) translated into a turn based format.

    And blasting a zombie with your shotgun? It just never get's old.