Sunday, January 27, 2013

Episode 59: Sil

Roguelike Radio episode 59 is here, with Andrew Doull and Darren Grey discussing Sil.

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

DISCLAIMER: Due to some very last-minute scheduling we didn't get a chance to include a more experienced player on this episode.  Our opinions thus may seem ill-informed to players who know the game in depth.  We hope to return to it in future with more experience under our belts and a few veteran guests.  The episode still contains much design-orientated discussion that we stick by, as our opinions at least.

Topics discussed in this episode include:
- The Seven Day Roguelike Challenge 2013 call for dates
- The upcoming International Roguelike Development Conference 2013, to be held in Poland from 7-9 June
- What is Sil?  A discussion of its Angband history, and how it is both different and similar from its *bandy brethren.
- Motivation for the game's development, some of which were shared with ToME4.
- Trying to be true to Tolkien in a roguelike.
- The game's wonderful manual, which explains the game's mechanics clearly and extensively.
- Discrete effects, low numbers, simple speed effects, lack of levelling, song-based magic, clarity of mechanics, and other excellent and original design elements.
- Obligatory discussion of interface niggles and character creation woes.
- Stealth in the game.
- Darren hates dice, Andrew disagrees.
- AI in the game.
- The universal roguelike problem of how to keep the early game fun.
- Sil as part of a modern wave of design-focused roguelikes.

Join us next time for further roguelike discussion!  Let us know below of any games you think we should cover.


  1. Thanks for yet another great episode guys. Been eagerly checking the site now for about a week in hopes of a new episode!

    The structure in this episode was a bit hard to follow, so I think I need to give it another listen before I could actually say something about it's arguments and all. There's always some nice ideas and criticism that emerge from your episodes, so will most definitely do that.

    Another game that peaked my interest from the ARRP 2012, was from Uber Hunter's coverage of The Slimy Lichmummy, which I think you guys briefly mentioned in the Themes and Settings episode. I would find a more in-depth coverage of that game very interesting.

    Are there any games you guys have covered in the past, where you didn't have much experience with the games in the past, that you have played much more since, and thus could cover in more depth? I think that would be very interesting too, where you would have the two episodes covering the game compliment each other with respects to how deep you dig into it's mechanics and solutions.

    I really find your interview episodes very interesting too, where you're not too afraid to get into some more technical details, like Brian's description of Dijkstra, for instance.

  2. Here's a link to the game. Definitely one of my top 5 roguelikes of 2012.

  3. As always, thanks for another great episode! :)

    I know you guys have kind of gone over stealth on many occasions so you probably won't want to do a full episode on it, so I'll ask my biggest question here:

    What games HAVE you guys played that handled the stealth mechanic in a fantastic way?

    1. Heh, one bit of dialogue that ended up on the cutting room floor was Andrew and I discussing doing a Stealth episode. There is definitely much more to discuss, and I certainly have many examples to bring up myself, including several of my own games.

    2. Well, you obviously have my full support for such an episode :P.

  4. The comment about death in the tutorial reminds me of the fact that such is not only possible in Dungeons of Dredmor, it's even an achievement.

    YAGP, guys! I enjoyed this a lot. Could you see yourselves making an episode that's a sort of guide to the 7DRL for newbies? I could see that being very interesting, considering many of you are multi-year 7DRL veterans.

    1. We're a year ahead of you, Kawa: :-)

      I'm hoping we can do a follow-up episode on "How to Make a GOOD 7DRL" with a few of the consistently highly rated 7DRL makers (Jeff Lait, Numeron, flend...) Needs a bit of organisation though :-)

    2. I would love to be on another 7DRL episode. I haven't made any 'good ones' but I can discuss the good ones and what made them good. :-)

    3. Yes, I think a 7DRL episode is in line, if nothing else than to set the mood and get people hyped :P The four episodes from last year on the topic is very informative.

      Maybe this is a good time to do a tech episode that speaks a bit about the engines that are often used, and about techniques the more experienced 7DRLers use to prevent a too heavy bug-creep during the seven days.

      How do you guys approach development when on such a tight schedule. Do you hack things together to make them "just" work, or do you carefully lay out an architecture that has less risk of game-breaking bugs?

      Do you start with the features that's unique with your roguelike, and that might hold the greatest risk in terms of project success? Or do you focus first on just getting the basics of a roguelike game running? How many days do you set aside for polish?

      You mentioned stuff on all these topics during hte how to make a 7DRL episode I think, but you never dug in deep on the topics, I'd really like that.

    4. And I think you're in the category of most awesome name for a 7DRL, Joseph. Both Gun Fist and Sun Crusher are incredibly catchy names for a game!

  5. I'm on a laptop. How the hell do I move diagonally? It doesn't support VI keys so I'm pretty screwed.

    1. Use 1379 on the numline. Not perfect, but you get used to it after a while.

    2. There is vi key support (mentioned briefly in the manual). I don't know the Sil option (I'm guessing it's under escape somewhere) so you may be better off asking on the Sil forums.

    3. Thanks.

      It's under the Esc menu under options, though I had to turn it on again every time I restarted. Also took me a while to figure out other keys. I've been playing a lot of Brogue recently so this takes a lot of getting used to.

  6. I'm very dissapointed by this episode. I've only managed to reach about the half-mark of it, thanks to the stealth discussion.
    I've made a joke in #rgrd when I saw the new episode is up
    02:25 (@magikmw) I bet they say within 10 minutes that they didn't play that muc
    And sadly, I wasn't wrong!
    There are many, many Sil players with experience that would help you get into the game, and explain anything that you got wrong in this episode, making it both more informative and enjoyable to people who actualy played the game for a bit.
    There is even a guy (an active player still), who made a whole video series on youtube about Sil (search for silstreamer). He would be perfect as a panelist.
    Things even I could correct for you:
    You can start the game as previous character very quickly by loading your character file. The character setup is reduced to few Enters and allocating your initial skillpoints (which you can do after starting the game anyway).
    Stealth isn't very "clear" or "binary", that's true. However, every monster has certain perception, and if you exceed it's ability to see you with your stealthiness, it's practicaly blind. After a short while you can kill whole packs of wolfs in the room without any of them noticing you. It does get harder by the end of the game, but overall, stealth chacaters can dance around enemies like they belong.
    Stelth focus in itself doesn't mean lower XP - usually you can work with at least two 'branches' of character developement. Stealth-melee or stealth-archery are very viable builds. Only by going full stealth-pacifist you could get really lower XP, but that's a challange build anyway.

    Please, please, please try getting on the show people who actually know a thing or two about the game you're discussing. I love what you are doing here, but I think you should rather try being hosts on a talkshow than 'know it all' experts. I thought you had the same conclusion after the '50th' episode?

    I hope this podcast improves, the potential is huge!

    1. There's no easy answer here:

      a) We would have still made the same errors had we had an experienced player on - it's just they would have been corrected in the flow of the podcast as opposed to in the comments afterwards.

      b) It was a case of either not recording a show at all for at least another week, or recording it in the state we were in.

      c) My instinct is to try and avoid getting seasoned players on, because IMO the episode can end up too much 'inside baseball' for people who have not played the game. Darren doesn't agree with me on this one.

      d) If we had waited to play the game more, we may have not recorded the show at all because Darren *really* doesn't like the combat :)

      With regards to your specific points:

      1. Having to reload an existing character file isn't at all obvious or intuitive.

      2. I've not listened to the edit, but I made a comment while recording on stealth to a similar effect, that is the modifiers can overwhelm the dice roll.

      I agree there's definitely a need for a follow up show for Sil once we've played it more. Unfortunately, you could say the same about every single game we have covered.

      We're going to try a couple of follow up shows (on other games) to see if this is at all a useful approach to take.

    2. About the 'inside baseball' issue, it can happen with the discussion format you guys are using. If you bring on a seasoned player you can treat him a bit like an expert, like when you do developer interviews but with more guidance. You'd have to take more control, like how a good TV interviewer guides things.

      "Okay let's get back to [main topic], we're getting a bit off into the weeds a bit."

      "Sorry to break in here, let's not go too far down the road..."

      It's hard to do I think. It would require more editing probably, but I dunno. We practice interviewing experts in law, getting what we want without overwhelming the audience (the jury). It could be similar on your show with a game expert. I'm just tossing out ideas here.

      Consider not bringing up your newb status and feeling the need to apologize and maybe less people will notice?

    3. Well, Andrew has an idea that we'll be more forthcoming with our opinions if we don't have to worry about upsetting a guest. But then of course we annoy the audience ;) Plus I'm happy to be forthcoming regardless.

      As for not declaring our newb status, you should know by now that I'm very into clarity of mechanics :P

    4. It seems to be a bit of a recurring problem for you guys that you don’t really have time to play the games you talk about too much – which I think is definitely understandable if you’re aiming to put out a new episode every couple of weeks, especially since it seems to be mainly on the heads of Andrew and Darren these days. (Where have Ido and John been recently? I miss those guys…)

      I agree that inviting on somebody who is already a self-professed fan of the game or even the developer himself is not likely to lead to the most balanced critical conversation. But that’s no reason you can’t delegate a bit more - how about bringing on ‘guest reviewers’ every now and then – recruit some people to come on when you want to do an episode about a game, give them a few weeks’ notice so they have plenty of time to play the game if they haven’t already and get into the nitty-gritty of it. That way, even if you guys still lead the critical discussion, you can have somebody there without too much emotional investment in the game but who can correct you on factual matters and provide insight into areas of the game that you yourselves may not have discovered yet. I’m sure you’d have no shortage of volunteers.

  7. I've added a disclaimer to the blog post above to say that we didn't play the game as much as we would have liked and due to rushed scheduling didn't get to invite anyone on. We say it ourselves near the end of the podcast, but it's good to have that disclaimer early to manage expectations.

    There's also a bit further discussion about the episode here, including a response from the developers:

    We will return to Sil in future, and perhaps do it more justice. But I still stand wholly by my comments on stealth and combat in the game :P

    1. You really didn't need to be too apologetic, something more like this maybe would work better.

      "Well that's our take on SIL, this game has great depth and complexity so we are hardly experts, but it's well worth a try for Tolkien fans and those that like the old school feel."

      Something like that?

    2. Well, wouldn't episodes like this at least serve as a good first impression guide for the game? Seems like the devs took it that way in the link there. This is why I think it's important to get back to these games in the future for anther take on it. A first impression episode would most likely talk about the user interface, early levels, character creation... generally first impressions, while the next episode would go more in depth and all in all be a completely different look at the game.

      I'd think there's a ton to learn from that. Both for the developers of the game being discussed, but also for the listeners, specially those trying to make roguelikes/games themselves :)

  8. Would it be possible at all to make an episode on the challenge aspect of roguelikes? What makes for good challenge, how is it different from other genres? I'm sure you've touched on it in multiple episodes already, maybe the diablo episode in particular, but I'd find such an episode very useful.

  9. RE: Dice - there's a really interesting 5 min podcast segment that @gengelstein did ages ago about luck and "bucket of dice" games. Counter-intuitively more dice = less luck.

  10. This podcast drives me crazy. I keep coming back because, well, where else can I listen to people talk about roguelikes. I don't even know anyone IRL that plays video games, much less obsess about an obscure genre as this! However, every time I do, I get upset.

    Why is every other episode of this show so half-assed? How does "we played the game for a half an hour each, but we feel like we can talk about it for an hour and half" make sense to you? Why! This is not the first, nor second, or even third time this show has done this! This time, it wasn't even the case where one (or two or three...) guy forgot to do his homework, but there was at least one other person there to pick up the slack. It was both of you! And you were very clearly ignorant the whole way through!

    A couple of ideas:

    1.) Don't do an episode on a game that you personally don't think is worth playing, as its just going to annoy everybody whether they agree with the game or not. Neither you (and you can certainly hear it in your voices this episode) nor the audience will have any fun.

    2.) Actually, like, you know, play the game you're talking about. Try to BEAT the game. That might involve playing it for at least a few days, maybe even a couple weeks. A ridiculous concept, I know.

    3.) If you can't fulfill one of the above criteria , but feel like you must to make a show anyways, then for the love god spend a little bit of time searching for someone who can. At the very least it will provide a more considered opinion. The conversation doesn't have to get "inside baseball" (although, who do you think is listening to this show anyways, besides other roguelike fans?) because, hey, guess what, you're the host and you control the conversation!

    One last point. Your constant dismissal of roguelike player skill and roguelike player experience on this show, in deference of developers being the wise guardians of the genre, is an annoyance in every episode. Do you really feel your opinions about mechanics carry a lot of weight when 5 minutes later you say "I've been playing a dozen years and still haven't beaten ADOM" or "I've been playing roguelikes for 7 or 8 and the only roguelike I've ever beaten was Brogue." These things don't really bother me in and of themselves, but they sure do when their speaker acts like a condescending expert despite having ridiculous opinions. "I don't like dice rolls." GIVE ME A BREAK! Go play checkers with a living and breathing human, in that case!

    1. I think you're being a little unfair... For a start, Sil would take many months to beat I feel. It's not an easy or simple game. I played about 20 characters over 6 hours, read the manual in-depth (what a lovely manual it has!) and watched a little on Youtube. Not perfect, but not as half-arsed as you make sound. What we did say about the game I stand by even after very in-depth discussion with the developers and advanced players. Check out this thread:

      Sil is more dice roll reliant than any roguelike I've ever played seriously before. In particular its damage system never has guaranteed damage - even against weak enemies you will regularly do little or zero damage with a hit. I don't like this. Personal opinion and all but I really think Sil goes overboard with its dice mechanics. I've blogged about misuse of dice mechanics in the past and Sil is a good example of these elements I'm not keen on. It's not a ridiculous opinion just because you disagree with it.

      I'm not sure why you think we're dismissive of player skill. I've said before that I think developers give great insight with their feedback, but I've also said communities are vital to building up a roguelike and we wouldn't have any of our big name games without them. We currently have several episodes planned on roguelike communities, player competitions, and making the most of feedback from fans - hopefully you'll enjoy some of these. Roguelike players are by far and beyond the best player groups in all of gaming (in my opinion) - unafraid of challenge, full of ideas and inspiration, considerate of overall design, and in many cases surprisingly positive about change. Just don't mention mountain dwarves... :-/

      The main problem I find with players vs developers is that players rarely play more than one big game, whilst developers usually have had a broader experience. This is a generalisation, though in part I think it's due to the fact that when a player goes beyond playing a single game they can't resist the urge to make their own (this is what happened with me). This is why we have so many developers in the community ;-)

      But what really irks me with your comment is the suggestion that I lack skill in roguelikes. I've won ADOM more times than I can remember, and still hold the highest ever score for a game without a wish engine. I consider myself one of the elite players in the world when it comes to ADOM. I've beaten Dredmor without crafting, Smart Kobold without ranged weapons and PrincessRL without deaths - some of these are challenges few or no others have done. Heck, I even beat the tutorial in Sil! (Okay, okay, just with stealth :-P ) I'm happy to have my skills as a developer questioned, but not my skills as a player.

      Some further points:
      - Initial impression of a game can be important. Experienced players often don't see certain flaws any more.
      - A game's mechanics can be a launchpad for general design discussion, not just discussion of the game itself. My rant about dice wasn't just aimed at Sil
      - We were overall positive about Sil and pointed out many of its unique mechanics whilst admitting we hadn't seen all of it and encouraging players to give it a go. What more do you want?

      Finally, we strive for openness and make it clear how far we get in the games we cover. Some have suggested we try to cover that up, but I think that would be outright wrong. At times we may be ignorant, but at least we're honest about it!

  11. "1.) Don't do an episode on a game that you personally don't think is worth playing, as its just going to annoy everybody whether they agree with the game or not."

    We have not done plenty of episodes on games we don't like. You just haven't heard them.

    "2.) Actually, like, you know, play the game you're talking about. Try to BEAT the game. That might involve playing it for at least a few days, maybe even a couple weeks. A ridiculous concept, I know."

    Fine if this was a monthly or bimonthly show and there was clearly only one game worth playing at a time, and we all had exactly the same taste in games. It's not. It is weekly show, the panellists have widely varying tastes, and there's hundreds of games to choose from. And playing a game for a few weeks before you're allowed to talk about it is a ridiculous concept.

    "3.) If you can't fulfill one of the above criteria , but feel like you must to make a show anyways, then for the love god spend a little bit of time searching for someone who can."

    We've answered our thoughts around this previously in the comments to this show.

    1. "We have not done plenty of episodes on games we don't like. You just haven't heard them."

      Heh, I wonder if we'll ever get round to touching UnReal World... And as many have noticed we still haven't touched Nethack ;)

  12. I don't think documentation/manuals OR tutorials are a good way to go for games. a video game should teach you how to play, as you play it. naturally. I feel like Roguelikes are already well-suited to this, since failure/death is expected.

    from how you guys described it, it sounds like Sil does a good job of providing some information in-game about your skills - showing numbers when you attack, to show the exact effects of things - but it also sounds like maybe other systems, such as stealth, are not so well explained in game. hopefully that improves in the future.

    (somewhat tangential: the game probably doesn't need to explicitly tell you "you have to specialize" as that's something you'd discover on your own through play ("when my skills synergize, I do much better!"))

    anyway: I am curious to give this game a try, and to see how it develops in the future. I had not heard of it until now.

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