Sunday, April 15, 2012

Episode 30: Identification Systems

Welcome to Roguelike Radio episode 30, where we discuss identification systems. Talking this episode are John Harris, Keith Burgun, Ido Yehieli and Andrew Doull.

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:
- The difficulties in developing identify systems
- Solvability vs. randomness
- Identification systems in Rogue and NetHack
- The importance of shorter games
- The Angband thread that Andrew mentions

Join us next week for more roguelike discussion. Feel free to post in the comments about more games you'd like us to feature or topics you'd like to hear discussed.


  1. Apologies for the sound quality of John Harris in the second half. We were joking about him being half man, half machine prior to the show and teh Internet obviously heard us.

  2. My computer was doing some processor-intensive stuff in the background, that may have been a factor.

  3. That's what robot John would say...

    The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping.

  4. Some interesting discussion... I think one thing with the ID and inventory system in the likes of Nethack is that yes, it is separate from the dungeon adventure and tactical combat, but overall there isn't a lot of tactics to the combat. Bump to attack or spam the same spell over and over - there's little repositioning or interesting evolution of the battlefield. I'd say less than 10% of battles are actually tactically interesting. The meat of the game is in character development, much of which involves finding and making good use of random items. The ID system adds an interesting element of decision making to this.

    Would be cool to see evolutions of the system though, without it just being a simulation thing thrown on top of another lot of complexity. The 7DRL Mad Mage had an interesting twist on it where you started knowing all your items, but they gradually became unided over the game.

  5. I'd like to chew out John for a moment here; at one point, he says with regards to Price ID in Nethack that "every price range has bad items." I can cite at least one case where this is not true:

    "If you come across a wand with a base cost of 500 in a shop, it is either a wand of wishing or a wand of death." - Nethack Wiki

    Both of these are fantastic items, let alone not being "bad", unless you decide to zap the Wand of Death in your own face.

  6. Good episode. I'd been eagerly awaiting one for 2 weeks!

    I'd like to touch a bit more on the comparison between item ID and map exploration. It was mentioned that map exploration has a strong influence on the tactical decisions in combat due to the risks inherent in fleeing down an unexplored corridor. The only example given for item ID was a +5 sword which did not fit the analogy very well. A better example would've been an unknown wand in the player's inventory. The decision to use an unknown wand can be just as complicated and interesting as an unexplored corridor. The wand may kill the monster outright or it might polymorph it into a far more deadly foe.

    NetHack's identification system takes it a bit further by allowing you to engrave with the wand (using up a charge). This has the potential to fully or partially identify the wand, with a considerable number of wands falling into one rather ambiguous category.

  7. My 7DRL this year focused on having to ID monsters using a light/dark system. I think it mostly went under the radar but it might be worth a look in light of this topic.

    The horror theme lead me to make the player almost completely helpless but I'd be interested to see how this might work in a more traditional action-based RL.

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  9. I personally think item identification is one of the most fun parts of roguelikes, and am generally disappointed when one passes on it. Shiren's system is very poor for instance because items are almost always good, and there's no real risk in identifying them. That's not even to mention all of your gear being identified as soon as you step into a town. Nethack does it extremely well, where despite you having most items ID'd by the second half of the game, the focus shifts from primarily inventory management to using those items well, and just the big adventure of the latter game (which is far more populated with unique events.)

    I think the only effective way to respond to getting rid of item identification systems is at least to provide enough unique 'things' to do (or even a use for at all - take for instance the cream pie in Nethack, which can turn out to be a reliable source of blindness) with each item that will NOT be apparent until much experimentation or pure luck that finding and using new items is still interesting.

    Thanks for the episode anyway, I enjoyed it! What would you folks think about an episode overview of console roguelikes? I think there's a lot of ground to cover in how they differentiate from the more traditional ones, and just interesting aspects of each one in general. The mystery dungeon games (pfff), Baroque, Fatal Labyrinth, ZHP, Izuna, and maybe you folks know of some I don't?

    Will be looking forward to the next one.

  10. "Shiren's system is very poor for instance because items are almost always good"

    Maybe in the intro Table Mountain dungeon, but have you spent much time in Fey's Final Puzzle? Because the items weren't almost always good there. I guess it depends on whether you view that first dungeon as the main game or as just a warmup for Fey's Final.

  11. A thought about small versus large games, and simple versus complicated designs...

    It is true that a short game and a simple design leads to excellent games, where every subsystem is meaningful. It is hard to maintain this level of quality with a game which takes a longer time to win.

    However, the thing I love in some roguelikes is the freedom they give. Ideally, you should be able to do whatever you can imagine (and makes sense): for example, construct weapons from things around you, put anything you want on fire (not only an enemy), write stories about your adventures and sell them, and so on. Such ideal freedom is impossible in a computer game, but I have found that major RPG-like roguelikes tend to give much more freedom here than other games (not having to draw graphics for everything helps there, and also some roguelike traditions like an ability to wield anything). I think this is a worthy goal, even if it comes at a huge cost (complicated interface, spoiler requirements, things without a tactical meaning and for imagination only). Some projects aim for this (Dwarf Fortress, ADOM II, my own Vapors of Insanity). (On the other hand, I don't try Dwarf Fortress myself, because I am afraid of being immersed too much into it...)

    So, to summarize: clear games with simple design are great, but sophisticated games are great too. They correspond to different needs of a roguelike player such as me, and both are needed.


  12. I gravitated to hoarding mentality out of necessity in what few roguelikes I played. Granted the most I've played is of ADOM and we're talking maybe 20-30ish hours at that.

    But I'm sure the gods of RNG were against me when practically every time I was in a pinch I started chugging potions or fitting unidentified items on, and without fail, there wasn't a single case of "you feel rejuvenated" or "the sword glows and you feel the might of gods flow through you". But a ton of cases where "the acid eats through you from the inside out as you dissolve to a puddle on the floor", and "the cursed blade whispers in your head and you go insane, stabbing yourself 70 times in the back before succumbing to bloodloss".

    Not that I mind, it makes for hilarious stories. But out of this, and the Diablo/Torchlight style of dungeon-looting games where you pick up everything to earn more money in the village later, I became a hoarder.

    On the other hand: Funny stories of gruesome death lurking in an unlabeled bottle.
    On the other: An entire section of the game unexplored for the uninitiated who didn't figure the systems our, or as the Dark Souls community would say, 'git gud' enough to survive to the point where I could identify the things.