Friday, May 31, 2013

Episode 71: The Hunger Clock

This is episode 71 of Roguelike Radio, where we talk about the Hunger Clock in roguelike design. Sorry for the wait! Speaking this episode are Darren Grey, Eben Howard and KawaiiDragoness (of the ASCII Let's Play series).

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:
 - How hunger was used in the original Rogue to keep players moving forwards and staying in the danger zone
 - The need to counter unlimited regenerating health
 - FTL's rebel fleet acting as a hunger clock to prevent scumming and add a sense of danger
 - ADOM's badly implemented early game hunger clock, and it's well implemented late game corruption clock that achieves the right effect of forcing the player onwards
 - Hunger done badly in big roguelikes - usually overcome too easily by experienced players, but kills new players a lot. Done as a simulation element rather than a gameplay mechanic.
 - Weaving the hunger clock mechanic into the theme of the game rather than having it tacked on (all the best ones do this)
 - How many players hate hunger clock mechanics and want to explore things 100%, not realising how this ruins the game balance
 - Times when a hunger clock is not suitable for a game, such as one encouraging exploration
 - Corpse degradation, with an interesting example from Dungeon Ho
 - Food as a strategic resource, vs the likes of potions as tactical resources - should it be this way? If food is not tactical does it have any point?
 - Cold in Frozen Depths - again thematically integrated well, as well as having monsters and environment features with cold effects
 - Cardinal Quest spawns zero xp monsters for sticking around on a level, Crawl spawns powerful monsters, forcing you to progress
 - Removing all scumming possibilities, such as in ToME4 and many smaller roguelikes
 - Insanity system in Infra Arcana which makes when to descend an interesting decision
 - Nightfall, with an advancing wall of darkness as you play
 - A Quest Too Far, where you get weaker as you progress and lose powerful items
 - Rewarding exploration vs rewarding progression
 - Teaching the player that they can't scum endlessly and they should be enjoying dangerous situations
 - The Hero Trap
 - The ghost in Spelunky as a real-time hunger clock (ugh!)
 - Bump with a strict turn limit and advancing screen edge
 - Carrot vs stick approach - incentives to progress rather than punishments for grinding
 - Score and achievement incentives for faster progression - something that new players won't notice but experienced players can care more about
 - UnReal World, as a hunger-focused game, which has both good simulationist hunger play and good hunger-based game design

Join us next time for more roguelike discussion, possibly even Sword of the Stars: The Pit at some point.


  1. I agree with the Spelunky thingo, the solution to show a timer for the ghost is much needed (even though it's not an elegant or thematic solution).

  2. I'm reminded of the game BERZERK, where the evil Otto will show up and chase you if you dally. Or Joust, where the dragon shows up. I'm often surprised at the similarities between classic arcade games and roguelikes....

    Even Gauntlet has a count down to oblivion forcing you forward, even though with infinite enemies spawning do you really need that? It certainly eats quarters I know that much.

  3. Indirect reference is better than no reference ;)

  4. and then, there was much rejoicing! :)

  5. Great episode, as always. One thing I think you guys missed out on is the conflict between hunger clocks as linear phenomena and exploration as a two-dimensional phenomenon. In games which limit exploration (such as Brogue or FTL), a hunger clock can work extremely well; the player has no other choice than to move forward. On the other hand, in highly branched games which feature a great deal of exploration and back- tracking (such as DCSS), hunger simply does not work very well.

    I believe it is simply not possible to reconcile these differences because the developer has no idea where the player might go. Without an accurate picture of the player's direction and pace of advancement it doesn't make any sense to try and tightly balance the food generation rate.

    1. Very true, which is why I was complaining about the hunger clock in ADOM II. If your game is meant to encourage or allow exploration then a hunger clock is simply unsuitable.

  6. I would like to see an episode on retreating. This idea occurred to me because of a comment Grey made (or was it Doull?) about how you could simply retreat if you were not equipped to take on a boss in Tome 4. The idea of retreating came up a lot in this episode to, in the talks on how roguelikes are usually designed so you will face monsters that you can’t handle. Retreating can actually seem pretty unnatural coming from a background of non-roguelike computer games (because if you fail the first time you can always try, try again by reloading a save, or because you simply HAVE TO defeat the monster or opponent to progress).

    As someone fairly new to roguelikes I can tell you I had plenty of YASDs because I don’t have the concept ingrained in me well enough. Reasons varied: because it didn't occur to me, because I didn’t retreat soon enough, because I didn’t plan for it (i.e. have an escape route in mind before I got into a scrap), or because I was bull-headed and thought “well I can probably win here” (in a perma-death situation “probably” may not be good enough). I really appreciate this aspect of roguelikes. Perhaps roguelikes in this regard have something to teach us for real life – knowing when discretion is the better part of valor.

    1. I've been thinking of doing an episode on just that subject. I call it "The Hero Trap" - that mistake of believing you should be the unstoppable hero, able to take risks unscathed. I posted something related on my blog recently:

  7. Hi,

    This will rather be general comment about episodes.

    I came here some time ago, I was one of that ton of people, that came here after Interview with Tarn Adams. Later I've listened to episode on Cataclysm, and after that I've started from episode 1, I've listened to all episodes, and from around January I'm staying abreast.

    I remember how sound quality+editing changed, comparing to initial episodes. There were better and worse episodes. I don't think I have favorite one, but I know one I really didn't like - the one about Zaga-33 and Microrogue - and I think it's because how it was carried (so hosts fault not guests imho).

    Also I remember there was one or more episodes, where there was music interlude, nice thing, could be in every episode :)

    Another thing I am missing, is some kind of 'loudness normalization', although, recent episodes sounds fine (but maybe it's only an accident). I remember some of the episodes were hard to listen because of that, cause some of you sounded really loud, while others quite quiet.

    I think it might have been answered in ep50, but I don't remember, so quick questions:
    how long does it take to record one episode? (I believe you sit on it much, much longer than episode lasts)
    how do you actually record episode? (skype?)

    To "wrap it up":
    Thank you all for hard work, you've all been and are putting into making RR episodes. Great podcast, it's really amazing, you're persistent enough to keep it running for almost 2 years now!

    Thanks again and keep it going!

    1. Glad it's appreciated, and sorry for the sound woes of the past! I've been making an effort to improve that lately. In particular I've found my voice was way too quiet, and my efforts to louden it didn't work, but the solution was to adjust the Skype incoming volume so everyone else is the same volume :)

      And yeah, it's pretty cool we've been at this for two years, with a great variety of people on. Happy to receive feedback on where we go wrong so that we can be better in future!

    2. Sounds like GiM 913 know a thing or two about audio engineering... maybe a new Ryan? :-O

    3. I hope this was irony, as I'm far from that :)

  8. Regarding episode itself a) I'm quite surprised brouge wasn't mentioned even once :) (or was it?)
    b) listeners should visit KawaiiDragoness YT channel, here's link:

    1. Does Brogue do anything interesting on this front? Food is less of a non-issue, but still mostly irrelevant to the main mechanics.

    2. Food in Brogue honestly reminds me of fuel in FTL: it's rare enough to be interesting, but otherwise it's just an extra resource to juggle around (but a resource that rewards with additional turns instead of additional power).

      And thanks for linking to my channel! There should be more roguelike content coming in the near future.

    3. I wouldn't say it's interesting, it's almost invisible for the player. That is, if you explore in normal pace, food shouldn't be a problem, and I think that's how it should be.
      I know there was a roguelike, where this went even further (can't remember the name now). Your character consumed it automatically if you a) needed it, b) had food in inventory. IIRC, there was also some warning, if you've ate last portion.

      OTOH, food seems to make more sense in survival roguelikes, like this year's 7drl mentioned in one or more episodes - "Forest Story", or Cataclysm for that matter.

  9. A typical epic roguelike food clock does not make simulationist sense, actually.

    Should not monsters always leave corpses?
    Should not large monsters provide much more food than required?
    What do the monsters themselves eat?

    BTW I think that IVAN has 2-turn potion drinking.

  10. Great episode, and welcome to the show Kawa! I really enjoy your LPs, and it's awesome to have RLR back on track!

    Looking greatly forward to "The Hero Trap" episode next time Darren! I just have a feeling this SOTS: The Pit episode is doomed to never happen... :-)

    1. Thank you! It's great to hear people supporting my Let's Plays. Hopefully I'll get the chance to be on more episodes and contribute to the podcast regularly. :)

      An episode on SoTS: The Pit is more likely than you think now that I've gotten a copy as well and am slowly working through it, plus Eben's played it quite a bit already and there's plenty of fantastic fans on their forums. Scheduling is always a pain, though...

    2. That sounds very promising! :) It's 13 episodes since a game was actually covered now on RLR. The last one was Sil, which got quite a bit of heat, so a new game-focused episode will be nice!

  11. In most cases choosing a gameplay element for simulationist or realism reasons decreases the enjoyment of a game. This is because, as you point out, it's impossible to stop at any specific level of realism without declaring arbitrarily that you're stopping. This is fine, but indicates that elements of a game should be chosen by how well they support fun (or whatever other goal the game has) rather than just for simulationist reasons.

  12. honestly, I like the ghost in spelunky for some reasons people don't see

    when the ghost touches a gem, it turns into a very valuable gem, thats really useful for score... it's not the simple death it seems to be.

    1. Hm, I had no idea that happened. I have yet to survive the ghost showing up and not being next to the exit at the time.