Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Episode 18: ToME4

Welcome to episode 18 of Roguelike Radio. This week we discuss ToME4, also known as Tales of Maj'Eyal. ToME4 is a major roguelike written by DarkGod, and has recently become the first game to win the ASCII Dreams Roguelike of the Year poll twice. Talking this episode are Darren Grey, Andrew Doull and John Harris, with guest ToME players/contributors Eric Wykoff and Eric Welch.

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:
- History of ToME4, including its predecessors
- The advantages of release early, release often and community contributions to the game
- ToME4's modern interface
- How the game breaks from roguelike traditions, and some of its unique features and classes
- IP violation, and DarkGod's change from Pern to Tolkien to an original setting
- Transparency in game mechanics, and the problems with too many stats
- Beta version stability, with some tips for folks on Vista or Win7

Join us next week for an interview with ToME4's creator, DarkGod.


  1. About IP violation. Most Tolkien inspired games are so un-Tolkien-like that all one needs to do is change the name to make the game unrelated to Tolkien. Or at least fly under the radar. It is most often the name that draws attention of the lawyers.

    When people come to be about IP questions my first recommendation is a name change. Change it to something the average non-fanboy lawyer wouldn't notice via a google search and go from there.

    Also cease and desist letters are just threats. Nearly always empty threats. They are scary as hell. But they are just a threat. They are not actually the instigation of any sort of civil litigation. Actual instigation of proceedings requires a lot of money and time.

    Most IP owners will not have their lawyers go after the average hobby game because of the cost. But they will send a letter so that they are covered in case they want to pursue action later. There are provisions in the law that say if you know about something and allow it to proceed you are later estopped from shutting it down because you have set a precedent. There is implied consent.

    In the case of TOME4 DarkGod did exactly what he should have done. Any game of this magnitude is not going to be missed by a competent attorney. Also a legal department would likely have decided to go after DarkGod. TOME4 is hardly a fan game that a couple of hundred people are going to play. It's a major project winning accolades and awards. A game like this would HAVE to be shut down or the Tolkien peeps would lose the right to shut down any vaguley similar game made with their IP.

    I'd like to hear more about the PERN thing. Maybe I'll go on the TOME4 Forums and see what's said. Pern seems like a setting that wouldn't quite work for a Roguelike and I'm unsure how much content could be derived that would violate an IP besides the name.

    At the end of the day it's almost always the name that tips off the legal departments. After that if you get incredibly popular, probably at least TOME level of popularity. That's when you get noticed. And really using the name is the big issue. Because that is what draws user interest and thus dilutes and/or damages the franchise.

  2. Somehow my meandering legal prattle is the only comment on this episode? This is the most popular roguelike out there. Seems strange.

    Perhaps the ToME4 community are not big RLR listeners?

  3. I've heard a horror story (I don't know how true it is) concerning some author's problems regarding copyright violators and what can happen to THEIR rights when they are overly permissive with allowing fans to infringe on their IPs. I don't want to spread misinformation so I'll leave out the details. I'd just be interested in a legal perspective to this issue. I think it would be good to know exactly WHY creators of original IPs (or at least their lawyers) have the both the need and desire to send Cease and Desist orders regarding something that most people might simply consider good publicity.

  4. The last time I played ToME4 I literally lost more mid-level characters to serious bugs than player mistakes, and that with a recommended OS etc. It was not playable, and not really surprising when barely-tested builds were being thrown out every other week. Most other technically beta roguelikes at least stabilise their major versions before public releases ...

    Anyway. Development choices aside, ToME4 should be a very fun game when/if it's finished. The cooldown-based tactical combat is fun and makes large fights much more about thinking than resource grinding, though at the cost of smaller fights being even less meaningful and more inconvenient than other roguelikes. The UI was ... okay I guess, I still always find keyboard controls faster than the mouse and ASCII more space-efficient than graphic tiles. (Mind you, the graphics hadn't been finished yet when I checked it out.) Unlock systems are terrible ideas for games as long and difficult as major roguelikes are and I am very carefully stopping myself from ranting about that particular design choice.

    The high-danger situations you find in Angband et al. where you can fully heal but then almost fully die in a single turn are not really good balancing IMHO because they lend themselves towards situations where luck plays almost as much of a role as tactics as it then only takes a couple of bad rolls in many situations to flat out kill you. By lowering the stakes (both healing and damage potential) to more reasonable levels and giving the player a few more turns to escape or die, you greatly reduce the luck element, allow for more tactics over that time period, and force the player to recognise and plan for danger further ahead.

    "I gained an experience level." is so cold and clinical. Screaming out "Level UP!", preferably while punching the air, is much more immediate and awesome! :D

    PROTIP: If it's called the 'the Land of the Red Dragon', you should probably be able to figure out what you'll encounter there without spoilers. Good in-gaming theming does wonders.

    (... who would have thought Super Smash Bros. would ever be discussed in a roguelike podcast. Achievement unlocked?)

  5. I realize this was posted back in February, but I don't think I've ever had it crash on linux. Given that the guy seems to put out 3 major updates a day, there's probably a rapid pace of bug fixing as well though :)