Category Archives: Reviews

What a beautiful day. Let’s kill some ugly monsters!

Fame

Author Piotr Bednaruk
Platform Windows, Linux
Version 8.3 (newest available is 8.4)
Website http://sourceforge.net/projects/untitled-rpg/

City at nightBold adventurer, is it fame you are after? Do you want treasure, fight fierce beasts or just to explore the land? This roguelike game, Fame, does not provide any answers for these questions. An adventurer you are and thats it. A manual bundled with the game also remains quiet about your reasons to wander around the world and whack monsters risking your life many times in the process. I found this lack of introduction incongruent with Fame’s otherwise well done plot. Anyway, who really needs a reason to hunt monsters?

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Passive-aggressive plants on the prowl

Author Jabb
Platform Linux, Windows (must compile)
Version 15th December 2011
Website https://github.com/jabb/BileBio/

BileBio is a tiny arcade game with roguelike feel. It started as a 1DRL and had some development later. Every game stage has but one aim which is the same every time: reach the stairs alive. The problem is caused by massive plants growing at astonishing speeds. If something would happen to grow on you – it means death, although BileBio does not explain exactly how you die.

Plants in BileBio are combined of roots, flowers and vines. Each part can spawn more of its kind. Roots are indestructible and can spawn new root in any place at the board. They can also burst producing four flowers around it and lots of vines. Flowers grow new plant parts in chess knight pattern while vines grow into adjacent squares. The last two forms can only grow up two times before decaying and withering. Roots sometimes also wither but it is uncommon event. An active plant segment is highlited in red (beware!); decaying segments are displayed in brown.

An elusive thing hinted at in readme is the nectar. Presumably it is worth many energy points and score but I have to encounter one yet. Having reached up to level 31 with 51440 points of score none were generated. None in all games I played. It might be exceedingly rare or not placed due to some bug. Whatever the reason I never found any nectar.

The game presents player with nine abilities to learn at varying costs. These are organized into three branches in which to acquire the higher ability one must have earlier one as a prerequisite. At any time up to three different skills can be learned. Some abilities center around wall usage. Hiding inside one is possible and grants safety for a time. Jumping over a single wall is very helpful in mazes and also cheap. Dash can be quite boon before the growth becomes dense or in short windows of opportunity right after some parts decay. Attacking a plant can be guarantee of survival in some cases but in other jumping over it may be preferable. Finally one can spawn a wall to hide in. The remaining skills have almost prohibitive cost of attaining them. You need to expend sixty points of energy before you can use any and still need more to benefit or fuel previously learned tricks. These are: extra lives (50 energy each), repellent lasting ten turns (costs 10 energy) and energy tripling from nectar (free, but find any nectar first!).

Obstacle and stair arrangement is chosen from a set of twelve handmade maps. Some have multiple exits and plenty of walls to use wall hop or wall walk. Others are mostly empty relying on growing plant life to create variety. Over longer playthrough lack of procedurally generated levels or at least more prepared maps is weak side of BileBio.

There are two factors that factor into difficulty. How many roots are spawned when the stage begins and how fast the plants of given stage get active. At early stages the plant life may die out if helped a bit but with progressing stages the green infestation gets to expand faster and faster.

A specific weak point of the game is unreliable numeric keypad handling. Orthogonal directions are read fine but diagonals are not recognized on every computer. Vi keys are provided as an alternative. That and requirement to compile the game from sources relegates BileBio into obscurity.

To sum up BileBio is a fun thing to try but it is not going to hold your attention for long.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Dungeons of Dredmor: Laugh in the Face of Death

Dungeons of Dredmor received the second spot on the Ascii Roguelike of the Year list so I wanted to delve in and explore this fantastic title a bit more.

Dungeons of Dredmor comes from Gaslamp Games and is by far their biggest title so far. The indie developer is relatively young, but its leaders have been in the game for sometime and have contributed to titles from TimeGate Studios, Piranha Games and Destineer Studios.

These young developers have clearly spent time doing hands-on research of other popular titles (the main character’s propensity for playing a handheld gaming system when you leave him alone long enough reminds me of Commander Keen and adds a humorous touch to the otherwise sadistic game). One of my favorite things about this game is its ability to start from various save points. When this option is turned on, you don’t have to begin at the start of the map after each inevitable death. This feature will probably appeal to gamers who are not as familiar with or attracted to the roguelike format.

The procedural generation of the game means that each move you make has consequences — often dire — that can be reaped almost immediately or five moves later. Your best bet is to construct a character who has thick enough skin to last longer than a few minutes in the maze of death that lies in front of you.

The level of customization that Dungeons of Dredmor allows is only exceeded by the level of fun the game offers. You have the power to choose from 34 different character traits spread across disciplines like magic, thievery, crafting and combat. It would be nice if new skills could be picked up within the game, but I honestly had too much fun delving into the world Gaslamp created to really care too much that I was locked into my player’s skills.

Once again I have to congratulate the makers of the game on the humor they lodged (and sometimes hid) within the game. For example, one of the character types, the Killer Vegan, comes with the tagline “the power of clean living, moral superiority and gluten-magic.” For a game as fatalistic as this — and death is pretty much inevitable here — the game keeps a pretty good sense of humor about itself.

It is exactly this contrast of fun and fatality that makes Dungeons of Dredmor such a fantastic title and one of the best roguelikes to be released in 2011. It will be fun to see what the wisecracking game wizards at Gaslamp have in store for us next.

Author’s Bio: Ryan is a guest blogger who likes to write about everything from social media to gaming to how to get deals using Dell coupons for gaming computers and other accessories. He also writes for the Blog Content Guild.

Check and mate!

ChessRogue

Author Chris Morris
Platform Linux, Windows; (open source)
Version 0.3.1
Website http://chessrogue.sourceforge.net/

ChessRogue: Hiding in a safe tunnelThe name says it all. A rogue on a chessboard. You are the king of white army. In fact you are sole remaining member of said army. But! You can still win by assassinating the black king after you singlehandedly defeat his soldiers. Not the last starfighter story again … Oh well. Roguelikes save for few exceptions have never been good in the plot department. This can be forgiven.

ChessRogue: Nine in a rowChess requires good strategy to win against a competent player. You need to plan carefully and sometimes sacrifice a piece to gain upper hand. ChessRogue is more about tactics. You will often wonder how to get out of a tight situation, what next piece to capture or ask yourself if getting to that treasure out there is worthwhile. Usually looking merely one or two turns ahead is sufficient but later this number increases. With only a single hit point this game leans heavily into puzzle genre.

ChessRogue: Graphical modeThe board is colored with alternating light and dark colors. Helps quite a bit with fighting bishops and making longer diagonal moves in general. There is also SDL mode but it is compiled only for Windows. Linux users need to some nontrivial dependency resolving to compile it first. The looks pass but controls are bit worse. Those of you with disdain for vi-keys will not be pleased. It is here as default control scheme. Sure, you can get around using number pad quite well at the start but later you must make two or three space moves. To do you that need to use the vi equivalent. Despite constantly displaying keys ChessRogue is not good game learn vi style keys because one mistake often means game over. Luckily there is keymap included. On Linux it can be put in home directory or made hidden and it will still be found. Ingame movement display will change to accommodate edits. Unfortunately good news end here. Said keymap states function keys, number pad, return key and other similar key cannot be remapped. Number pad fans are at a loss. People with non-qwerty keyboard layouts will need to edit crkeymap.txt file before playing.

ChessRogue: Lances and mantrapsChessRogue creates a board and sprinkles opposing pieces on it. The most variation in gameplay comes from randomized levels. Number and types of opposing pieces differ only slightly between playthroughs. Water layout defines how the battle will fare. You should look for best places to exploit skills you have and at the same time efficiently hinder enemy. On difficulty modes below expert first level will feature a water cross where you can trap pawns without much trouble and get them all. On toughest setting you need employ crowding tactics to pick them off. Moreover there might be not enough pawns generated to make diagonal capture ability available. Then on second level you may need to face sergeants with just basic powers. Surviving this requires a bit of luck which is against the spirit of chess. Sometimes ChessRogue will smile at you and place bishops or even knights in a spot where they are unable to make any moves.

ChessRogue: YASDAnother subtle but not without tactical uses rule is order of piece movement. Sometimes while observing enemy movement patterns you might deduce that pawn moves before this bishop does. Such knowledge may allow you to move into seemingly dangerous places because you know that a pawn must move first and only available spot to enter is one cutting off a path of aforementioned bishop thus guaranteeing you safety. This is difficult to pull off but very satisfying if played well. Also if you are in a losing position where every possible escape is covered try to look for places that can be obstructed with lucky piece movement. You might survive more than one ambush.

ChessRogue: Fear effectEarlier I have mentioned treasures. These are represented by white exclamation mark and come in three types. Fear effect makes enemy pieces flee from you unless you stupidly wander into a position where you can be immediately captured. Used well this may be helpful in separating tough pieces, splitting dense or well-covered formations or madly dashing to the exit. The last option does not reward you with additional points or moves but in later levels this might be wise decision. After all not much is left to be learned from all those dangerous pieces and you might get captured. Second effect is haste. Speed enables you to make two moves in a turn. Very useful. Finally, learning makes every capture count triple bringing desired new abilities to you faster. On the other hand you receive bonus score for every unexpired treasure when you enter exit. Do not bother with this much before you get your first win though.

ChessRogue: Secret weapons labCurrently ChessRogue presents two modes to players. Classic Pieces and no special challenge. Do not let yourself be deceived! Playing with classic chess pieces only makes for easier game because there is less possibilities to consider and fewer levels to get caught. Extra pieces are still present sometimes. They appear with special level entrances and inside those but are not counted in score list. They may still contribute to chain captures though. Overall new piece types make for more interesting play but much less balanced. You will note more than one time the aggressiveness of sergeants. They are by far more dangerous than generals because they cannot move back in orthogonal corridors. If two of them team up or one with a pawn in front be prepared to count that way out. If all your ways get generated with teams like this you know Random Number Generator hates you today.

ChessRogue: Shogi pieces includedWeak point of ChessRogue are its first levels. There is barely any challenge offered even the first time. Unfortunately patience requirement is significant. Imagine getting captured somewhere in midgame. You brain got used to solving difficult situations with advanced pieces on board and now you are back to fighting just meager pawns. Boredom has great potential to turn your thinking off at this point resulting in getting owned by that brown ‘P’. Quite frustrating.

ChessRogue: Super power gainedSpecial predesigned areas are another not so great addition. There you will find prearranged pieces and a boss waiting to be conquered. Exit does not appear until the special opposing piece is captured or (at the fortress) zoo wall is smashed. The problem is the special level is the same every time. Once you figure a strategy (or a few) for solving that puzzle it becomes more like a boring chore to overcome. You need just to make no mistake executing the plan. A plan, which is very similar every time. To add insult to injury capturing cannoneer (boss of second predefined area) while in classic piece mode is useless because there will be almost no sergeants available to load the gun.

ChessRogue presents very entertaining challenge. It is worth recommending it especially to masterminds. In late game with plethora of moves to make try to make the longest chain capture possible. My personal best is 27 pieces taken in a row. The joy is overshadowed by low replayability of early game, poor quality user interface and somewhat by game saving possible only between levels.

Lost, apocalyptic, magical, beautiful, dark, absurd world

LambdaRogue

Author Mario Donick
Platform Windows, Linux, MacOS
Version 1.6
Website http://lambdarogue.net/

LambdaRogue: Outer DungeonThere are two races dwelling on Earth. Mankind and Drekh’Nar. Friendly relations last long but finally a “good” reason to start fighting gets found and war erupts. There are many casualties on both sides. However, neither race had significant advantage until Drekh’Nar acquired the enchanted sword of mankind’s general from a traitor and cursed it. This act caused men to suffer a major defeat and soon they were forced to surrender. Price for losing the war was great: banishment to underground forever. LambdaRogue is a game about exploring locations deep within earth but at the same time shaping future of mankind.

LambdaRogue: Destroyed hivePlay style of this roguelike is close to Angband’s. Dungeons are nonpersistent creating unlimited resources for player to scavenge thus inviting you to grind. However, this is not as simple. Difficulty of a given level is not constant. Killing enough monsters of given type will cause a stronger variant to spawn. Lost hit points do not regenerate naturally. You have to use health restoring consumables which cost you some credits. Early game is a race to get powerful enough as fast as possible in order to earn credits for food and medicine. Weaker characters are going to have tough time starting off. At times it will be more beneficial to descend to meet fresh strain of enemies because these new “basic” specimens will actually be weaker than toughened variants of currently fought monsters.

LambdaRogue: Forgotten RealmAn uncommon and controversial feature is ability to have game saved for a gold fee. Permadeath will claim the lot of your early characters but when you finally hit it big and afford life insurance the tension is no more. A streak of mistakes may force you to go back to earlier point in game but the cost is now insignificant. Life insurance cost increases linearly while your earnings do so quicker. Major roguelike defining point is harmed and decrease in challenge reflects this. Most important reason for going this way is LambdaRogue is primarily aiming to tell a story. If a promising character would get sliced by the grim reaper close to final game player may not return to know how all of this ends. Thus greater tolerance for errors.

LambdaRogue: The Lost OutpostMajor driving force of LambdaRogue are quests. Those provide story pieces and items crucial to game completion as rewards. Other ways to know more about the World of NeoTerr are to purchase text books from library or to discover them through mining. Certain professional ranks require a specific quest to be completed to obtain it. Other ranks need a certain skill set to be matched. A quest log is available. It lists all people who asked you for a favor by dungeon level.

LambdaRogue: CatacombsAmong many facilities in town workshop stands out. Here player may drop items to have them disassembled for some resources like wood, metal and stone. Subsequently those may be used to create a powerful unique item. The problem is amounts required to do so. Only a fixed number of slain monsters will drop items on death. To collect needed quantity one effectively has to purchase cheap stuff from shops to disassemble. In effect resources become merely lots of credits. Exception is stone which is easily harvestable from plentiful rubble.

LambdaRogue: MeteorLambdaRogue has gods. You choose one at character creation and may only interact with that deity. Other divine beings will contact you if they desire or … you actually met them. If you are good enough an opportunity for deicide may arise. A potentially grindy prayer mechanic allows one to make contact with patron deity. Every time you press ‘p’ it is counted as a single prayer. Remember to press it at least once or that one guy (or gal) up there will get angry at you. Fortunately sacrificing items on altar increases total prayer number by a considerable amount lessening the problem a bit. Still, expect to lean your finger on ‘p’ a few times.

LambdaRogue: The Book of StarsRecently it is popular among roguelikes to present players with graphical user interface to attract new players and ASCII for veterans. This is good unless those also bring different features impacting gameplay. Unfortunately LambdaRogue commits this sin. ASCII mode displays much larger map area allowing for pleasant exploration. SDL mode feels claustrophobic in comparison even with small tiles option set to true. However, it has minimap which marks NPCs if you have talked to them already and stairs if you have used them before. This greatly speeds up travel through places you have visited in the past. In ASCII you have to wander until you find what you are looking for or juggle interfaces. If you ascend it is worthwhile to watch ending sequence in graphical mode. Text alone just does not do it justice.

All in all LambdaRogue is successful as a medium to tell a compelling story without resorting to linear progress. With two functional interfaces veterans and newcomers alike will find it easy to get in. While not as replayable as most roguelikes it has passed 1.0 version milestone and is a complete game able to stand on its own.

Preview: Traction Edge

Traction Edge

Author Mongrol
Platform OS X, Linux (source only)
Version 0.1
Website http://code.google.com/p/tractionedge/

What would X-COM look if you left out non-battle phases? Have a look at Traction Edge. Version 0.1 is not much beyond technical demo but already gives you several officers to choose for each of three patrol missions. Your objective is to eliminate all opposition. Choose people with at least 10 points of strength. This allows to carry muskets which are much better than pistols.

Traction Edge: Bashing the doorTraction Edge: Hostiles spotted

You can just blaze through levels. Resistance is going to be small because enemy decision making capability is very limited. They act only if your agents remain in their view. Otherwise you are free to jump from behind an obstacle fire two snap shots point blank and hide again. After you kill last one mission is completed. If you explored fully last level but cannot see anything to shoot at destroy some walls. Surely some slither was placed inside stone.

Traction Edge: Patrol membersTraction Edge: Equip officer

Traction Edge was first released for ARRP 2010. Next version was announced to be revealed on ARRP 2011. To check out the game you need either to have OS X or compile from sources.

ARRP 2010: BOSS

BOSS: ShopFor ARRP 2010 a very old game was resurrected. BOSS is a variant of Moria. Its last official release was for ancient computers. Having this gem back is very nice. However, in spite of lack of science fiction themed Angband variant BOSS generated minimal attention. Answer to why is that is fairly simple.

Playing BOSS could be considered retro gaming even by roguelike standards. Monochrome ASCII display combined with interface significantly inferior to those seen nowadays can take a great deal of dedication to overcome and get into. With competition in genre so great one would rather play something else.

BOSS: DepthCuriously the game has several things noteworthy to offer. Player has computer equipment slot where he may put his Commodore Vic-20, Boysenberry Laptop or other such machine. Shops in town offer various services. For example you can have your sex changed for five hundred dollars. Among things you might find are Vogon Commanders reciting poetry at you, refitted Jarwangian Armor pieces, Daisyian Screwdrivers and Daisyian Umbrellas.

BOSS: SeattleIn past days Moria overshadowed Angband while it was still in development. Today for BOSS to break through something more than a port is needed. BOSS needs active maintainership to regain its beauty. Maybe not a whole rewrite like NLarn developers attempt but a solid set of changes and interface overhaul.

ARRP 2010: NLarn

One of ancient and very influential roguelikes of past is Larn. Many veteran players have very fond memories of that game. NLarn is a rewrite with modern roguelike features added in. It has color, smooth interface, friendlier controls and … auto-travel?

NLarn: TownNLarn is winnable and has most features of original Larn in. First thing to notice is color and bustling town with inhabitants who tell rumors when nearby or bumped into. Fortunately they will not pick items up so you can still store items on the ground without worry. Annoying thing is citizens will continue to flood your message area while you are taking a course in the College of Larn.

NLarn: GenocideGameplay itself has not changed that much. Vision range is reasonable now. Items may stack on single floor tile and have blessed/uncursed/cursed status. Chests are true containers. Traversing level boundary will correctly place the player character on corresponding set of stairs. Charisma attribute which was only used in determining strength of charm monster spell is gone. Finally monsters behave in intelligent way. They use weapons against you and may follow you through stairs to another level or fall through trap doors to wait for you on next floor.

Magic is altered too. Genocide is a scroll instead of a spell, few other spells were cut. Among them is sphere of permanence, famed spell extending duration of timed enchantments to eternity. Axing it is good balancing move but I still miss it for its awesomeness factor. On lower difficulties lightning and fireball do not destroy statues like they used to.

NLarn: InventoryOther large set of differences affect NLarn interface. Keys are changed to work in different way. Many are rendered obsolete by inventory view where all actions can be chosen in object-verb fashion. You no longer enter buildings with ‘e’. ‘>’ is the key here, culling a unnecessary command. Item interaction screens are very nice and easy to use. The only place where original Larn still has partial superiority in interface division is bank view. Gemstones were put into a nice table which allowed to comfortably sell a stone and withdraw/deposit money in one visit. Moreover values of all stones were visible at the same time.

NLarn: EndgameIt is version 0.6.1, still far from 1.0. Many features wait to be implemented. In upcoming versions I expect hounds to vaporize magic missiles, addition of carried artifacts like Scarab of Negate Spirit among others. There are no curses, taxes nor slippery volcano exit. Summon demon spell is not yet there. Overall NLarn is much more attractive than its predecessor even in current state. Improved interface, color and auto-travel are guaranteed to win over Larn’s completeness for everyone but die-hard players.

A New Addition to the Major Roguelikes

ToME4

Author DarkGod
Language Lua (with some elements in C)
Platform Linux, Windows, OSX; (open source)
Version 3.9.9 beta 18
Website http://te4.org/

Hidden TreasureToME4 (or Tales of Maj’Eyal: Age of Ascendancy) is the latest in a series of roguelikes made by DarkGod, famed for his creation of PernAngband/ToME2.  It has moved away from the Tolkien setting with its own original fantasy world, and no longer has any ties with the Angband series – indeed, the gameplay is now vastly different.  Its most notable features are its intricate character development system, with points invested to unlock or improve talents individual to each class, and its very smooth interface, which supports full functionality through either mouse or keyboard.  These combined with an intense development pace and a vast number of innovative gameplay features have contributed to ToME4 being crowned Roguelike of the Year 2010.  Oh, and it’s also quite fun.  Often in the roguelike scene people talk about the 4 major roguelikes of ADOM, Angband, Crawl and Nethack.  I think that with the advent of ToME4 we have a fifth member.

Blasting The MasterToME4 currently has 8 races and 17 classes, with more being added at regular intervals.  One controversial feature is that many of the races and classes are initially unavailable and must be unlocked through reaching milestones or completing quests in the game.  The game is spread over a large world with several continents and over 30 dungeons.  Some dungeons have very unique layouts and mechanics, such as the collapsing tunnels in the sandworm lair.  As you would expect of a major roguelike there are several hundred enemy types, and they tend to have access to the same abilities as the player classes in true “player as monster” fashion.

Sher'Tul FortressThe game supports both graphical tiles and ASCII mode, with additional options for in-game music and sound effects.  It also represents the actions of spells and abilities with procedurally generated graphical effects.  Unfortunately these and a few other issues can cause the game to run slow on even fairly decent computers, and some players may need to tweak the video settings to make the game playable.  The graphics, sound and music combine well with the intuitive mouse interface to make for a very modern looking game, whilst still preserving full ASCII and keyboard support for traditionalists.  Overall the game is incredibly friendly to those with no roguelike experience, with tooltips for all enemies/items/statuses and extra game modes allowing additional lives and easier play.

Undead AboundThe talent system is the heart and soul of the game.  Each class has access to around 10 distinct talent trees with 4 talents in each tree.  Characters get points to invest as they level up, and can use them to improve existing talents or open up new ones.  Each talent has stat and level requirements to unlock.  Talents include lightning bolts, stealth, aimed shots, defensive auras, and many many more.  It’s an incredibly flexible system that produces a lot of variety in play, whilst giving the player a large amount of choice in how to develop their character.  Melee types are of especial interest in this system, as instead of simply bumping into enemies players must also consider the best use of activated and sustained skills in overcoming their foes.

One vs ManyThe best thing about the talent system is the variety that exists between the classes.  There is some overlap of talent trees available, but the majority of them are unique to their own class.  Many classes also have their own specific resource bar, often with individual ways to replenish them.  For instance the Cursed class has a “Hate” bar which is filled by killing enemies, encouraging the player to maintain intense killing sprees to keep their abilities at peak performance.

Low HealthThe major fun in the game comes from exploring the dungeons and killing enemies, with careful choices being made about which talents to use and when.  With over 40 abilities available on some characters there are a lot of tactical decisions to be made.  The game is not afraid to break away from tradition, with no food clock, auto-identification of items from early on, and consumables (potions/scrolls etc) replaced by activated “runes/infusions” with cooldowns. Whilst some veteran roguelike enthusiasts may miss the item management gameplay elements the changes do help focus the game purely on the combat. The runes/infusions system especially helps to prevent players from simply amassing potions to escape any harm, and require careful play to use at the optimum time.  The inevitable deaths in the game come entirely from HP-reducing attacks – there are no cheap death rays or instant killing enemies, though monsters that can stun or freeze the player are particularly dangerous.  Gameplay is tight, challenging and very fun, with many interesting bosses and edge-of-your-seat fights.

A Dark CryptThe Inevitable DeathThe game is still in beta stage, and this is noticeable in some of the performance issues and in rough edges at various points.  However it is still eminently playable and completable, and development is ongoing at a breakneck speed.  The last 3 months of 2010 alone have seen 7 major updates, including a great many new features, dungeons, items and a wealth of major gameplay changes.  DarkGod is very active in the ToME community and eminently responsive to suggestions and contributions from players.  For 2011 he is planning a vast upgrade of the tiles with impressive new artwork from Shockbolt, and additional classes/races/quests/zones to move the game out of beta stage.

A sneak-preview of the new-look ToME4:The New Look TrollmireThe New Look Kor'Pul

ToME4 is built on the T-Engine 4 roguelike engine designed by DarkGod, with the core engine code written in C and Lua and module files written entirely in Lua.  The engine is open source and is reported to be extremely flexible and adaptable to new roguelike projects.  To find out more about ToME and T-Engine and to download the latest version visit http://te4.org/