Monday, February 6, 2012

Episode 22: Infra Arcana

Welcome to episode 22 of Roguelike Radio. This week we discuss Infra Arcana, a horror-themed roguelike with significant Lovecraft inspiration. Talking this episode are Darren Grey, John Harris, Legend and Infra Arcana's developer Martin Tornqvist (aka NON).

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

Discussion covered this week includes:
- Lovecraft theme and other inspirations
- How to pronounce "Cthulhu"
- Insanity system as a food clock
- ASCII vs tile mode
- Dev fatigue
- UI and keycommands, inc for laptops

Join us next week for a general discussion of themes/settings in roguelikes.


  1. Nice discussion here. I really liked hearing Legend's perspective. I hope he comes on the show more often. I also hope you guys find a Crawl expert as it's a pretty important game in the community.

    Out of curiosity, I opened up the NetHack guidebook and counted the number of commands. With the number pad turned off, there are 105 commands (including the 23 extended commands)!

  2. I'm actually blind-running this game right now in an LP format, if anyone's interested in the newbie perspective. They're uploaded onto YouTube ("let's play infra arcana" should be sufficient).

    With regards to ammo: I don't mind the concept of having "packs" that aren't interchangable with other ammo of the same type, but there's no (at least obvious and/or simple) way to choose which cartridge you want to reload. I think it chooses the fullest cartridge by default, even though I might have the time to reload a bunch of my less-full ones. (Might be a way to do it from the inventory screen, but it could stand to become a bit more intuitive, possibly just giving the player a choice between cartridges when they 'r'eload.)

    But overall, loving the game. Insanity system is a great take on hunger mechanics in addition to its effect on almost every aspect of the game. I haven't played enough to see if there's a method of exploiting or farming, but I hope you can choose to raise your insanity really high as a means to cast spells better (ie, becoming insane makes you more sane toward arcane concepts). This isn't a true exploit since there's an obvious penalty, but it's great to have those outlier options.

  3. I definitely had a great time doing the podcast and would enjoy doing it again. Hopefully I don't stumble my words so much next time.

    I wish I would have jumped in on some of the topics a bit more though like room types, the Blood influences, explosives and flares, traps, some of the specific skills, disease, phobias, and why the weapons automatically tell you their bonuses. Maybe a bit more of the strategy and enemy types as well. It was the first time I've done a podcast like this besides an interview for an old band of mine several years ago. I was a little afraid of talking over other people's words by accident and was maybe a teensy bit nervous. :p

    Wow, I guess I was pretty off on how many commands nethack has. It used to be one of my favorites, but find myself playing it quite rarely lately.

    Anyways, hope I did ok, and glad someone enjoyed my perspective.


  4. Good to hear a true Lovecraftian discussing this. I agree that HPL's work is gaining popularity (partly due to the excellent work of Messieurs Fifer&Lackey and their literary podcast), but it's still pretty much underground, especially outside the English speaking world.

    Concerning the movement keys, it's a shame that so few devs realize that there IS a viable alternative to vi-keys if you want to play on a laptop. I came up with a system similar to the IA one and find it quite natural. One should also consider the fact that many non-QWERTY keyboards make vi-keys very hard to use.

    Anyway, good show! Looking forward to next week's episode!

  5. On higher insanity making it easier to cast spells: That makes some sense, but a game utilizing this would have a dire drawback for that playstyle if it was a really Lovecraftian game -- completely maxing out insanity ends the game.

    In the Call of Cthulhu RPG, as a character loses SAN it becomes gradually less playable. And something not discussed in the podcast concerning that game: it contains a skill called Cthulhu Mythos, rated from 0 to 100 like other skills in that game. This particular skill measures one's knowledge of the true, infinitely maddening reality that lies beneath the one that we see with our eyes. In that game, your SAN has a hard cap of 99 minus the character's Cthulhu Mythos score.

    Having the Cthulhu Mythos skill can mean deducing which monster is causing the trouble in a scenario, what spells could appease or dissuade it, or what weaknesses it might have. But because of the SAN cap rule, which is absolutely inviolate, having a high score makes a character very difficult to keep under control in tension-filled situations. Especially when a character hits 50 in Cthulhu Mythos skill -- from then on, the character will fail more sanity rolls than he passes, and the player can expect loss to be particularly heavy. In pencil-and-paper play, assuming he survives to this point, this is a good time to retire the character.

  6. Lovecraft is underground? I think it is one of the most popular&famous modern horror-myths around :)

  7. "Popular and famous" in the horror genre tends to mean either classic gothic horror like Dracula and Frankenstein or whatever is in the most well-known horror movies. Lovecraft is influential, and somewhat famous in his sphere, but it's not like there's ever been a wide-release Lovecraft movie.

  8. OK, maybe it's not famous to the general public but I'd hardly call it "underground".

    In particular, there has been a ton of games with lovecraft or lovecraft-inspired settings made throughout the years.

  9. To me it's almost like saying that forgotten realms is an underground setting.

  10. Well, Lovecraft has been tremendously influential of course. Nearly any work of horror or fantasy that includes an ultrapowerful, eternal, impossibly alien old god trying to break through to our reality and end the world, for instance, is playing a thread that either originated with the old gentleman from Providence or from one of his own inspirations. Even Sauron's depiction in the Lord of the Rings movies took more than an inspiration from entites like Yog-Sothoth in theme, and Tolkien is pretty far overall from HPL.

    However, explictly Mythos games are rather hard to come by. The most Mythosy computer game out there is probably Eternal Darkness, but even that doesn't pay explicit homage to HPL except for a small quote in one of the books early in the game. Notably, the "official" video games are mostly

  11. (Damn iOS bug....)
    ... the "official" Call of Cthulhu video games are mostly crap. Infra Arcana is actually one of the more faithful Lovecraft computer games out there.

    I could probably do a list of these games in fact. It'd have to include Infocom's own take on a Mythos-like game, The Lurking Horror. Hmmm, could be an interesting project.

  12. "Infra Arcana is actually one of the more faithful Lovecraft computer games out there."

    Well, since the player is pretty much doomed from the start... ;)

    The most faithful Lovecraftian adaptation in recent video games is probably the Dark Corners of the Earth, up to the point you get a gun. Some of the older adventure game versions were reasonable, but they suffer from a bit of "everything and the kitchen sink" at the ends.

  13. Regarding the tangent at the end, I agree completely that the unthinking use of abjectly poor control systems just because they are traditional is a bad choice. The design ethos that you must be able to do everything in one or two keystrokes is ridiculous, and dates from an era where interfaces were a accidental byproduct of the program, and not something which is designed. Even so, the original Rogue only had about six or so commands (apart from the hideously ungainly control keys, which were originally a kludge in Vi allowing legacy VT52 users to move the cursor.)

    Thanks to people extending that limited interface rather than revising it, we are stuck with people thinking an interface that was already crude and unwieldy when NetHack was started is actually a sensible option. In reality, it is usually the single greatest obstacle to actually learning to play a roguelike, and is one of the primary factors that have kept them as a niche market in gaming.