Saturday, July 28, 2012

Episode 42: Elitism

Welcome to Roguelike Radio episode 42. This week we talk about Elitism in the roguelike community. Talking this ep are Darren Grey and Ido Yehieli.

You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics discussed in this episode include:
- Accusation of elitism in our Diablo episode
- Roots of elitism
- The oft repeated "is it a roguelike?" question
- Attitudes towards roguelike-likes
- Developer elitism
- How to deal with elitism

Tune in next week for an episode on Spelunky, with hopefully a very special guest.


  1. Aww. You do an awesome podcast, guys. :D

    ... But Is It A Roguelike?™

    1. Fully agree with you here.

      "... But Is It A Roguelike?™"
      Make a t-shirt with that slogan and sell it! :)

  2. Nice episode.

    With respect to people not liking binding of isaac being in the roguelike of the year poll, let me say that (while I don't necessarily agree with this point) there is a legitimate fear that a popular game that is not a roguelike could get into the poll and upset the balance to some extent. As I agree that it belongs in the poll, I cannot really be sure what the reason is for people to feel that way, but it seems somewhat reasonable to me. At least, I can see things from their perspective.

    With respect to definitions I think there is some importance to it in the location of forums. Obviously as an extreme example we don't want farmville threads popping up on the temple (although, I can see some value in the discussion of anything :P). There are lines that shouldn't be crossed, but I think that anything that has at least something in common with the roguelike genre deserves discussion in some way. I would say that perhaps a "roguelike-like" subforum could be useful, but I don't want to be the guy that picks what goes there and what goes elsewhere. It just isn't clear-cut.

    I tend to note in posts when I think something isn't a roguelike (because it IS a roguelike forum and I think that still means something), but I also tend to note that it doesn't particularly matter (to me). I think the question "what is a roguelike?" will yield a different answer from everyone.

    Perhaps to illustrate the point that asking whether or not something is a roguelike is a pointless discussion, I would like to say that I think tome4 is an rpg (if I had to pick one genre) and that anything that doesn't give you infinite time to act is not a roguelike at all :) Of course the point is who cares?

  3. I just want to make the point that "elitism" is not "putting down something that happens to be popular".

    1. Seems like you're taking the "don't bother with definitions" discussion to heart :)

  4. hm! I don't think it's too late to say "Diablo 3 could be improved with X, Y, Z" - in fact, that could be extremely valuable, for anyone with plans to make a "diablolike", or any game with similar elements.

  5. Great episode. I was one of those commenters that called the Diablo episode elitist, and while I won't really back down on that point (though I still think it was more in the way you worded your opinion than your opinion itself), your dislike of Diablo is and never will be anything compared to how much bile and vitriol that certain elements in the roguelike community have for these outsiders like DoD and BoI.

    You briefly mentioned FTL and I hope we see an episode on that when the project finally comes to fruition. That is one game I'm very excited for.

  6. Falling into the uncanny valley of roguelike design.

    I think from now on I will have to judge any roguelike by this. :-)

  7. For an episode about elitism....

    You guys start out acknowledging that the impetus for this episode is accusations of *your* elitism in the Diablo episode, and then dismiss it all and say "Nah, but THE PLAYERS are the elitist ones!"

    I didn't really care about the diablo episode, though if pressed I would have said it was indeed a little elitist, but fun. This episode just hammers that point home. "People who are creating games but haven't put them out are *just players*" Come on guys, have a little self-awareness!

    I couldn't even finish listening to this episode because the tone grated on me, and I'm a fan of this podcast.

    1. Um, then you must have missed the bit where we talk about developer elitism :/

    2. I guess I did. I listened to about 10 minutes of the episode and decided to stop listen. Maybe I should listen to it more but from the first 10 minutes I didn't feel like there would be any real discussion.

      I like both of you guys, and especially am a fan of Ido as a moderate and thoughtful commentator but I just got real turned off.

      Will give it another shot then.

    3. Not everything is for everyone, it's fine if you don't like some of the stuff we record (I didn't care much for some episodes either, e.g. I never finished the ADOM or Dredmor episodes because it was too boring for me).

    4. I hope it's clear that I'm just criticizing as someone who enjoys the podcast who was disappointed in the episode, not as a hater who is just trolling.

      But I will give it a full shot and see if I just jumped to conclusion.

  8. People that call the roguelike community elitist just don't get it.


  9. I don't think it's usually all that useful to accuse somebody of elitism, since it's often making assumptions about their motivations when you have no real knowledge of them and is commonly used as a way of disregarding their ideas without actually engaging with them.

    What I find more valuable is trying to understand to what extent the things that they are saying are objective or subjective. Objective observations are (subjectively) most worthwhile, but while I don't think that I have any particular obligation to pay any attention to people’s subjective views they can still be interesting if only as an insight into that particular person’s experiences and psychology (which, as a games designer, I am interested in).

    Of course (to be elitist for a moment) most people don’t really understand the distinction and have trouble telling the two sides apart: particularly so far as their own thoughts are concerned. I think a lot of what gets flagged as ‘elitist’ views are usually people treating their own subjective preferences as objective fact.

    In general I think this podcast is quite good at being open about to what degree the things that are being discussed are subjective – the way that most game discussions open with a short description of how much each participant has played the game, for example. Having just re-listened to the Diablo episode I think it starts out well as a kind of semi-objective review of Diablo *as viewed as a Roguelike*. But later on it goes to a slightly weird place where the participants all appear to be seized of the idea that those particular criteria are some kind of objective standard to which all games should be judged – to the extent that they seem to make value judgements about those people who might disagree with them; comparing them to drug addicts, saying that they’re ‘wasting their time’ (who isn’t!) and that roguelike Devs who liked Diablo “should know better”. I think this point where you go from criticising the game to criticising people who like the game is what a lot of people are talking about when they say you are being elitist. Not that it isn’t entirely understandable – I think we all have some experience of how rapidly a conversation between people who all agree can devolve into an ‘Us vs. Them’ type thing – but it’s maybe something to be aware of for future recordings.

    Looking forward to the Spelunky episode, I frikkin’ love that game.

    1. Paul Jeffries views rather effectively sum up my frustrations with Diablo episode as well. In this episode, you comment that this podcast is aimed more at developers than players - to that end, as a developer (though I fail to meet Ido's definition in a strict sense), I'm far more interested in critique of a game's mechanics and components than its players. I don't want/need RLR to validate my choice not to play D3. Incidentaly, I don't think the problem is negativity - an episode singing the praises of Nethack players would just as uninteresting to me.

      This episode did a nice job of rebalancing my opinion of the show & has left me looking forward to future episodes. Keep up the good work.

    2. I was hoping for more discussion about the (IMHO) interesting sounding decision to not have a skill tree in D3. I've not had a chance to play the demo yet: I suspect we'll do a follow up D3 episode at some point given I've got a promise from a potential guest to appear plus at least one person who's been on the show previously is interested in talking about it.

      Of course, the real money auction house may have changed all of that.

    3. That's some great feedback and analysis, Paul. We'll definitely have to keep this in mind in future.

      By the way, I disagree with Ido's assertion that the podcast is more for devs than players. A lot of devs listen obviously, but we started this specifically to take about individual games to get more people to play them. We've changed over time to talk about design more, but this should still be of interest to players who like to analyse roguelikes. I certainly don't want to alienate all the supportive players out there who enjoy the show!

    4. Here is where I point out the massive overlap and unprecedented contact of developers and players in this genre.

      I use myself as an obvious example. Mostly a (poor) player, but I toss out a 7DRL when the time comes, do a little play testing and text editing when asked.

      I consider myself fairly typical. Perhaps a bit overactive on the forums...

  10. For me, the RLR has been a great introduction to the RL genre and scene, both from a player and developer perspective. RLR is also what I'm pointing friends to when they ask curiously what a RL really is all about.

  11. I think that we like discussing what is/is not a roguelike because our opinions differ here. It might be still enlightening to find out that other people have different opinions, or to see the pros and cons of various features, or that there are strong relationships between some roguelike characteristics (permadeath and random generation, for example) which make some of them useless alone, allowing games with these features to stand out as a separate genre. The problem arises when we have to decide what should be available in the ROTY. Last year, Andrew Doull broke his own roguelike definition (a game that is announced on RogueBasin, or something like that) to include Dredmor and Binding of Isaac. Someone should add Diablo III and similar to Roguebasin, to avoid such problems this year :)

  12. And now, I will try to defend the inaccessibility approach ("you have to read the manual to play this game", and so on). Recently, there are lots of loud persons in the roguelike community who give an impression that you need to make the roguelikes accessible, and that people who think otherwise are "elitists" who are against popularity; at the same time, they are elitists themselves when discussing games which actually are popular and accessible, like Diablo. But there are actually reasons against it.

    (1) It is obvious that an accessible game is better than an inaccessible one. The problem is whether it is worth the effort. Tiles, tutorials, redefinable keys, mouse support, easy-to-learn interface, whatever the dev would not use himself are features that require a lot of boring work on the developer's part. And most roguelikes are written for the fun of it.

    (2) If you want your game to be popular, it is of course worth it to do all the boring work. But it appears that you should also reduce the challenge and complexity, too. There are people who like this kind of challenge, and those who do not. Diablo is extremely popular, but it is not challenging. It is hard for us roguelike fans to understand why people play such a brainless game instead of playing a roguelike, watching a movie, or reading a book, but they do. Dredmor is popular, but many roguelike fans dislike it because it is less complex compared to other roguelikes. An old commercial roguelike series, JauntTrooper, had some accessibility features, but was not a success. I tried it and loved it. Maybe it was too challenging and complex?

    (3) I have heard that people do successfully introduce new people to the genre with ADOM, Dwarf Fortress, or another game which is low on accessibility. You just need to talk to the right people. I have posted about my Hydra Slayer and HyperRogue on a math forum, and the response was generally positive (although quite small, and some people wanted graphics). On the other hand, Hydra Slayer's rating on the Android Market is quite low, some people apparently do not understand it. I am trying to make it more accessible, but is it actually worth it? Not everyone needs to like to solve math puzzles, and the people who do not understand it probably are those who would not like the game anyway.

    (4) Lots of people love ADOM for its complexity, and read the whole manual before trying the game. Dwarf Fortress is even more complex, and also its interface is legendary for its complexity (I have not seriously tried it myself), and it is also relatively popular.

    (5) If you write a complex and challenging game, this is cool, but it does not help if people have not heard about it, or see no reason to try. We need to raise the roguelike awareness in the society. Accessible roguelikes such as Dungeons of Dredmor, and roguelike-likes such as Spelunky are great for raising this awareness, I hope that people who try these and enjoy the roguelike features will do their research and check out the more complex roguelikes too. But I think that there are lots of potential roguelike fans who are not videogamers at all. Lots of people think that video games are just a waste of time, and play board games and read books instead; maybe they could enjoy roguelikes. Also the HS example above (better reception by math geeks than by gamers) show this. As mentioned above, I don't believe accessibility helps with these people. There are more important features (I am quite sure that the lack of graphics is a big turnoff, as well as the lack of laptop support in 8-dir games; these actually make you lose players which would play the game otherwise).

    1. You make some interesting points and I agree that you of course need to balance the desirability of features against the time taken to implement them. I also certainly agree that it's not necessary for all games to try to appeal to all people - or even to any people other than the creator, if that's your only goal. A couple of counterpoints, however:

      - That might work as a practical reason for not implementing a better UI etc. but I'm not sure it stands up as a design argument. You don't really offer any reasons as to why we should consider a game that is inaccessible - all other things being equal - as not being inferior to a game that is more accessible.

      - In the long run, I don't think skimping on the UI necessarily saves you all that much time. In my day job, for example, I (amongst other things) write little specialist engineering tools and I tend to find that any time I might save by not working on the UI or by neglecting to write proper documentation ultimately gets absorbed either by me wasting time that could have been saved when actually using the tool myself, or in having to explain things to colleagues who are trying to figure out how to use it themselves.

      - Complexity != Depth. I think some of the best games are those whose mechanics are very simple but which taken in combination provide very deep gameplay (like chess, for example). Complexity can help provide depth, of course, but only if used well, and often I think it gets used as a bit of a crib. I think the problem with Dredmor (which I actually quite enjoy) is not a lack of complexity - the crafting system can be fairly complicated, for example - its that what complexity there is doesn't always combine in interesting ways: the tactics you use will usually depend on your skill build but not a lot else.

      - The problem with game interfaces is often not actually a matter of complexity but just bad design and addressing that can benefit your core audience as well as more newbie/casual players. Dwarf Fortress, for example, I think we can excuse having a complex interface because it's a complex game with a lot going on. But a lot of DF's interface is just flat out poorly designed. Similar actions often have a wildly different control paradigm for no good reason. It also does a very bad job of presenting the information you need while playing, meaning that even if you have put in the time to learn how to play it it's still pretty frustrating. I really love the game but I had to give up playing it when my fortress built in hilly terrain got attacked by a goblin army. Because you can only see units on the current z-level and the gobbos were all running up and down hills it was completely impossible to tell what was going on. I know DF is super-popular despite this, but I'm a selfish man and I'd like to be able to enjoy it myself without those annoyances.

    2. Alternative labels:

      Binding of Isaac could be called a shooter with procedurally generated content, a level-up and customisation system and one life. Roguelike shooter is handier.

      Spelunky could be called a procedurally generated platformer with inventory and one life.

      Diablo could be a procedurally generated isometric action slots machine in a fantasy setting :-)

      Anyway, i have a request/question: Can a game with crafting be still considered a roguelike? It screws with item randomization, it incites grinding on each level and seems to fly against the very spirit of "dive fast using what you find on the way" in general.

      Since crafting has passed somewhat under the radar (eg. i don't remember a particular mention in the Dredmor episode) maybe you guys could ponder on that when/if you do a Dwarf Fortress episode?

  13. I've been a gamer and dabbled in programming since the 1970s, and later became a professional programmer and systems analyst (though not game programming, except as a short-term hobby to teach myself programming, as a personal challenge, and to entertain a small group of friends/co-workers).

    One reason why I eventually abandoned rogue-likes was that as a programmer, I was really interested in UIs back in the pre-windows days, and what made them intuitive (or anti-intuitive) and easy to use. I learned this while working for an actuarial consulting firm by comparing competitors software with our own. One sign that we were doing it right was that competitors would ask us if we could put our interface on their software. One of the major differences between our interface and those of our competitors was that we did NOT have arcane commands, or even an overly complex menu system, and there were always our version of what today would be called tool tips clearly visible on the screen. We had automated sessions that operated as tutorials. And this was designed for people in the actuarial and insurance professions, in other words, 'experts'. People naturally gravitate towards programs that make their job easier, eliminate the type of busy-work thinking, and allow people to concentrate on what is actually important, choices that are actually relevant to the job at hand.

    So why should that be any different when we are talking about games?

    Don't get me wrong -- I love deep, complex games. But when I play them, what I want to be doing is PLAYING them, and not playing an interface. I should not have to remember one of 36 different commands, nor should I have to hunt in a multi-layered menu system for some obscure command that I THINK exists but just can't recall where it is.

    Another thing that has always annoyed me is ambiguity and obscure jargon in language in some interfaces.

    Ambiguity is a really hard one because it's been my experience that people don't often realize when they are being ambiguous. Programmers are often not the best at using English as a language, at least that's been my experience as a programmer. Part of it is a tendency to be literal when most of the world is not. But also, a lot of the programmers I've worked with over the years clearly had a very focused education that excluded actual verbal language.

    Anyway I just wanted to mention some of my own pet peeves.

    1. Haldurson: It would be interesting to read a more in-depth blog post on UI from your perspective and experience.

      Also, perhaps an episode of RLR that looks at UI in roguelikes could be interesting? I know the episode on Designing for Non-Roguelikers touched on it, but something more in-depth could be very interesting imo.

  14. Elitists are like normal people but better.