Planet Roguelike-Dev

September 22, 2016

The Ground Gives Way


The next release is finished in the sense that I am not going to add anything more to it. I am currently testing it with the help of some friends, and there are still some bugs that I am trying to fix. I plan to announce a release date very soon (the release date is probably going to be sometime in October). First a little update about a quality of life feature that comes in the next release:


Inspired by a let’s play from HedoNNN where he says he keeps track of important features in a document while playing, I realized that it would be better if the game did that for you. When you view maps, you now get an overview of things you have left behind and intend to come back for.

The game will remember all “notable features” that you pass. These include golden doors, portals, mysterious veins, chests etc, that is, things that may be useful to come back to later. When you view a level, you get a list of all notable features on that level. The menu itself is also enriched with symbols of notable features to give you an overview, see the screenshot below.

You get an overview of the important stuff

You get an overview of the important stuff. In the overview you can see mysterious veins, campfires, fountains and services. Portal levels are green.

Furthermore, all levels that have portals are displayed in green so that you can immediately see which levels you can travel to via portals.In future versions I might add more functionality, like being able to target the different features (or maybe even fast-travel to them), but this it should be quite useful already.


The post Auto-Notes appeared first on The Ground Gives Way.

by thegroundgivesway at September 22, 2016 12:47 PM

September 20, 2016

Grid Sage Games

Roguelike Celebration 2016, the Experience

For years I’ve wanted to participate in IRDC, but they’ve always been held in Europe, or as of last year the US East Coast as well. Both destinations are too far away and too expensive for me from here in East Asia, so I definitely paid close attention when news first popped up of a new roguelike event on the West Coast.

Initially the plans for this Roguelike Celebration started out relatively small, however, and as “close” as it was, I couldn’t quite justify the cost in both money and time. It wasn’t until July that the list of attendees started to grow so quickly that I began rethinking my decision to skip it. Even the original creators of Rogue would be there, and Tarn and Zach Adams were coming, too. Clearly this was becoming an opportunity not to be missed, so I contacted the organizers to confirm I could sign up to do a talk (to make the trip extra worthwhile :D) and bought a plane ticket the next day. It helped that my brother lives across the street from the venue, otherwise adding in the costs of accommodation would’ve really pushed the limits of my meager budget since I also needed to arrive several days early to at least somewhat get over the effects of jet lag.

So the stars were apparently aligned and I could finally take part in a roguelike event, and actually the first ever video game-related event I’ve been to.

And the Roguelike Celebration wasn’t just “an event.” As the list of participants snowballed it turned into the largest roguelike gathering in history, one that it felt great to be a part of, and one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had as both a developer and fan of roguelikes. I got to spend time chatting with Tarn and Zach Adams (Dwarf Fortress), Brian Bucklew and Jason Grinblat (Caves of Qud / Sproggiwood), Thomas Biskup (ADOM), Jim Shepherd (Dungeonmans), Brian Walker (Brogue), Santiago Zapata (Ananias and a zillion other roguelikes), Sabouts and Rogueliker (Let’s Players), Gabriel Santos (Stone Story), David Craddock (Dungeon Hacks author) and so many others.

At the end of the day we got a group shot of many of the speakers, devs, and organizers:


Roguelike Celebration speakers, developers, and organizers. (Click for larger size, or get the full-resolution download here, for all your devious Photoshopping needs. List of those pictured here.)

Not that we took a survey, but it was pretty obvious the average age of the participants (audience and everyone included) was easily in the 30s.


Noah Swartz and his co-conspirators did a wonderful job putting everything together over the preceding months, and on the evening of September 16th it was time to check out the venue and prepare it for the next day. This mostly involved moving some tables and chairs around and talking to the volunteers about various tasks to come.

There was no official get-together the evening before, and I wanted to hang out with other roguelike folks if possible, so I planned to wander over there around the time this preparation was likely to happen. Again, it was across the street, so this was quite easy to do :P. Except for the fact that I was also planning to meet up with Sabouts on the way (his hotel was right next door), but the last pic I’d seen of him didn’t involve a big fuzzy beard, so I didn’t recognize him at first and walked right by. (I found him after a few minutes…)

This became a recurring theme at the celebration since many of us had never seen one another (even a picture), and it wasn’t exactly small (~200 people), so even someone that you knew must be there somewhere, was probably not all that easy to find.


The main room where Track 1 talks were held, as seen the day before. Track 2 talks were in a smaller corner room with bleacher seating, and several hallways connected both of these to the entrance areas, restrooms, etc. Everyone was not in the same area at the same time.

We saw a group of people waiting outside the venue building, and while I recognized Brian from his frequent Twitter pics, he 1) had no idea what I look like and 2) thought I introduced myself as “John” rather than “Josh” (it was somewhat noisy by the roadside). Shortly after that we had to register at the security desk, and then he realized I was the guy he’d been chatting with for a while online :P. So yeah, things like this happened a lot--the next day there were plenty of “oh you’re [insert familiar name here]!” moments.

Prep also involved Britta and others setting up their atmospheric decorations, including a table covered in NetHack scrolls and many other props,


Roguelike shop?

and walls adorned with posters of giant ASCII characters, or the perfect phrases:


Mind the stairs.


On the main entrance/exit.


Eventbrite generously let us use their offices for a day. (This is not a normal public event space.) Curses on these iceboxes were conveniently removed once all the roguelikers dispersed.

Celebration Day

Even having arrived in the US on Tuesday, come Saturday I was still having problems with jet lag, waking up at 3 AM and just kinda waiting until 6:30 to get up xD. No doubt the excitement also played a part there :D

I headed over as early as I might be able to get in, and hung out inside with Tarn and Zach while attendees started gradually filling up the entryway.


The Roguelike Celebration is about to begin!

There everyone picked up cool shirts, and speakers even got unique shirts:


Such an awesome speaker shirt.

Other roguelike items up for grabs included pins and even @ socks!


Socks of RNG +10 for everyone. And a challenge coin for speakers.

(Designs by Allison Hughes.)

At sign-in everyone got a lanyard ID, but the low-contrast colors and small size did not really serve as an aid to finding people, seemingly appropriate at a roguelike event :P. But whatever, it looks good and is a nice souvenir.

Fortunately in my case I had my Cogmind shirt so it was nice to be walking around and have some people recognize me from that, and of course in terms of speakers we could finally identify who was who after their talk. There were certainly those I’d missed for much of the day and only later found--Thomas Biskup and I said as much when we traded places on stage. So many roguelike people!

Overall organization was great, with talks proceeding on schedule and no big hiccups, no doubt facilitated in part by the professional AV help. I was mostly focused on listening to talks and meeting as many people as possible rather than taking pictures, but do have a few random shots from the process that I can share here.


Noah kicks it off.


David Craddock moderating a talk by the creators of Rogue, Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and Ken Arnold (left to right). This was the first time they’d all been together in 30 years.


Nicholas Feinberg talks about weeding out boring optimal play, among other topics, in the context of DCSS.


Jim Shepard covers the importance and methods behind maintaining a focused tone throughout a game.


Tarn and Zach Adams pack the room when talking about their early games and inspirations.


Thomas Biskup giving an overview of ADOM’s complete development history, from beginning to today.


Brian Walker analyzes approaches for creating good gameplay.

All the talks were streamed live (with around 200 online viewers), and later uploaded to YouTube here. Check them out!

My own talk is here. Also, my slides themselves are actually accessible online as well if you just want to look at pretty pictures rather than watch my ugly mug and listen to that voice--I, for one, refuse to listen xD

I was unbelievably nervous, but apparently I felt it a good bit more than it came through, at least according to what others tell me… My mind was almost totally blank as I talked, which felt extremely odd, and I didn’t even reference any of my notes.

It was actually my first ever talk, and I learned a lot in doing it, so I’m pretty sure I could do a much better job next time! Reflecting on it, I should’ve done fewer slides about a slightly tighter topic, and gone a bit more in depth about each part, since the need to fit so many slides into 30 minutes contributed to my nervous rush. That could’ve also left some time for Q&A, which would be more fun and makes sense for a live event. I’m so used to writing long articles and packing in everything I can, heh.

Still, I’ve never been good at talking to crowds unless it’s completely spontaneous, otherwise I tend to put so much thought and planning into it that I end up paralyzing myself. Ack :P


Blathering on about something. (Photo courtesy of Santiago.)

The best part of the talk was where I didn’t have to talk at all, and just showed Cogmind’s [now old but still pretty representative] trailer to demonstrate the value of audio, and that went over quite well. I also later heard that the Twitch stream chat got quite active while I presented.

In terms of other content, I took my originally planned talk topic (innovation in roguelikes) and tacked it onto the end of my newer “becoming a developer” topic, giving it an ever-increasing weight until they were about even and essentially became two full talks in one. (I.e. far too much to properly cover.) As important as innovations are, I’ve never shared the full story behind how I became a developer, and knew it could be inspiring considering my non-professional background, so I really wanted to describe that process. Certainly since the talk I’ve heard from quite a few people who have been inspired to make a roguelike, so that much is a success.

That said, either topic would’ve been much better in isolation where I’d have time to provide more explanations, like those found in the notes which I ignored :)

Other results from my talk include several interview requests, and selling about 12 copies of Cogmind that day (much better than the average day, which is like 2). In fact, according to friends in the audience, several people at my talk bought Cogmind while I was talking, which I thought was pretty neat (and unexpected). I also heard that some people who would like to use it learned about my REXPaint tool via the talk, so that was good.

After Party

We ended up having to leave the venue earlier than scheduled. 8pm became 7pm, and 7pm became “let’s try and shift people towards the doors around 6:15 because everyone will stop every few feet to chat” (yes, we did :P). So no time to really play roguelikes or talk much right there after the event ended, but there was an after party at the Thirsty Bear, a bar with a sufficiently RPG-sounding name.


We took over one of the larger upstairs spaces.

Unfortunately a number of people had to retire for the evening, but we still had a good turnout at maybe a few dozen. There the majority stayed for at least a couple hours of meandering conversations, and I really enjoyed talking to Thomas (ADOM), Brian (Brogue), Santiago (Ananias) and others.

But it wasn’t entirely roguelike talk. Meeting in person is great for allowing conversations to drift through all manner of related subjects, and they did. On that note, everyone I met throughout the entire event was of course wonderful, as can generally be expected in the roguelike community.

I wasn’t on social media all day since I don’t use a phone (thus being away from my computer thrusts me back to the days of 90s communication), but there was apparently quite a flurry of online activity throughout the event, and it was fun to browse that the next day. Among the discoveries:


Garret Voorhees did some speaker sketches :)


I brought a shirt for Jeremy Mitchell because the Cogmind logo was changed to its current ASCII form in 2015 at his suggestion. Many thanks for that.

The End?

Is this only the first of many Roguelike Celebrations? Everyone sure hopes so. Whether you’re a player or developer, I highly recommend participating in the future if possible. It’s just so much fun, and an excellent learning experience, to be around so many other people with a shared interest that many of us rarely (if ever) get to share with our everyday IRL friends.

Sure you can still watch the videos, but that misses out on the all the little interactions and conversations that play out through the day. Getting to know existing roguelike internet friends on a somewhat more personal level is also neat.

Many thanks to Noah, Britta, Asheesh, and Allison for putting it together, and Eventbrite for hosting it. Several considerations for next time:

  • The earlier in advance the date and location can be set and announced, the more likely people will be able to attend, especially those of us who are further away.
  • The intermittent notifications/announcements prior to the event could be posted to a news section of the website to see how preparations are progressing, rather than only by email, since a lot of people miss mass emails for whatever reason. (I know I never even received the last one sent out before the Celebration--wasn’t found in spam or anywhere, but I heard from someone else that it existed and what it said.)
  • Depending on the potential turnout, a two-day event would be more appropriate (based on the size this year) so it’s not so rushed and leaves more time for talk and play aside from the talks themselves.

Keep celebrating those roguelikes!

This post Roguelike Celebration 2016, the Experience originates from Grid Sage Games.

by Kyzrati at September 20, 2016 05:39 PM

September 19, 2016


Does it matter how it was made?

I recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road. Generally speaking I’ve never been a fan of the action blockbuster, but the film’s very strong lead performances, intriguing and unusual world-building, rich sociopolitical subtexts and – most importantly – extraordinarily striking visuals and art direction elevated it far above the norm to something very compelling, singular, and original. I don’t ordinarily seek out behind-the-scenes stuff for most media I consume, but whenever something has particularly excellent visuals, I tend to look for any videos or information I can find on the creative process behind them (the Dark Souls Design Works and Half-Life’s Raising the Bar remain two of my most treasured books for just this reason). To my shock, it became apparent that in the overwhelming majority of shots, the cars were actually physically present on the shoots: those sweeping takes across the car “fleet” were takes in which all those cars were actually brought on set (though “on set” loses a little meaning in the middle of a desert) and filmed driving alongside one another. I was very pleased to discover this, speaking as someone who has always preferred the real-stunt for the car chase (or the costume or animatronic for the monster) to their CGI equivalents, but it got me thinking.


One of the most common questions I get on this blog, the various other sites I post about URR on, and in my website email inbox, boil down to “how did you program X?” or “could you please write more technical rather than design/progress-oriented blog entries?”. For the former I try to give a design oriented answer (“I made the system do A B C and keep track of D whilst factoring in E because I wanted it to output F”), whilst the answer to the latter generally boils down to “I’m afraid not”. I don’t write technical entries partly because there’s a lot of very new PCG stuff in URR that is (currently) unique, partly because I don’t find coding as a practice particularly interesting (I enjoy coding, but only because of the results produced at the end), partly because my code is rarely very elegant (since I don’t come from a Computer Science background), partly because I am remarkably ignorant of useful computer science terminology, and partly because I just think what the code does in the game and how a player experiences it is so much more interesting and important than anything I could say about lists, dictionaries and matrices (whatever those are).

I therefore find myself somewhat torn – I think the use of physical objects rather than CGI in Fury Road should be applauded (even though I suspect most viewers couldn’t tell the difference), yet I dismiss equivalent questions about my own under-the-hood processes, and have little-to-no interest in the coding of any other games out there, even those which I love and revere above all others. How can I resolve this apparent bit of cognitive dissonance? Does it actually matter for the appreciation of a piece of art how something is done, or does it only matter what the viewer/player gets from it; and does this vary across genre, or across different creative practices (film-making/game development), or in differing contexts between the contemporary states of different media formats?


There are certainly arguments that the process of construction is important to the overall artistic product. I’m sure many people would argue that there is undeniable artistry in the “production” of art – that producing film special effects through CGI or physical effects brings a different artistic quality to a film, just as I know of many programmers who certainly describe programming as an artistic and creative process. For myself, it’s definitely a creative process, but only as the means to the creation of the eventual creative product; I’m not a programmer who derive any pleasure from, or has any interest in, creating the most optimal code or the most elegant code or the most interesting and effective way of coding some particular element. It’s not at all artistic for me. Similarly, the perceived aesthetic worth of so many modern art movements are fundamentally contingent upon emphasising the form of production – drawn without the lights on, randomly thrown paint, using only certain pens or brushes, and so forth – that it seems hard to remove the process from the value of the final product. Indeed, in URR all the art is ASCII/ANSI art, and to me some of the visual pleasure in looking at URR’s graphics (if I may say so) comes from understanding the constraints and limits placed upon the artistic process, which is to say the particular process of selecting and placing characters and colours.

On the other hand, by suggesting that process matters, are we not inevitably suggesting that a piece of art cannot stand on its own merits, but we need to know its production for a full appreciation? This brings with it some pretty obvious problems: there are tens of thousands of ancient works we cannot go back and investigate the production of. For every one modern novel whose development can be traced across author interviews and hand-written notes later made available to an interested public, there are a thousand whose origins are shrouded by time. Certainly, we don’t know what we’re missing out on by not appreciating how these were written – perhaps every chapter of a certain work was written only on certain religious holidays, knowledge of which would bring new understandings of the author’s intentions – but there may nevertheless be meanings we can’t comprehend. But if we believe such production-oriented meanings are always important, we inevitably limit ourselves to only partial understandings of almost all works, and that just doesn’t seem right; some of my most profound experiences have been with art (of whatever form) the production of which I knew nothing about, or only learned about after the experience. Perhaps knowledge of how something was made should be treated as an enjoyable addition, not a crucial component?


In watching Fury Road I also found myself quite surprised that, in essence, I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m sure some people who viewed it realized “wow, none of those are CGI” just as I’m sure others thought the same way I did – “I assume these are CGI, because that’s the norm” – but that was my particular experience. I actually recall some time around halfway through the film thinking “wouldn’t it have been cool if they’d actually got all these cars in these shots?” but such a possibility seemed too remote to be worth taking particularly seriously. I think there is some broader point we can learn here about how the expectations of any art-form, especially in an era of major technological change (CGI in cinema/TV, and the expanding horizons of hardware/software capabilities in games more generally), can come to shape our experiences within that art-form, and even trip us up. Now that we expect so much to be done in cinema through CGI, it actually comes as a shock to learn that something wasn’t made using such a technique.

In turn, that highlights one of the things I find so compelling about the worlds of Dark Souls and Bloodborne (yes, I couldn’t go through a single blog entry without bringing these games up again) – they deliberately produce that same surprise in the player by allowing you to later explore areas that, in 99% of other games, would be mere skybox (background art that shows parts of the game world that cannot actually be explored). You spend much of the game staring at these areas that you expect to be inaccessible, and then when you get there, visiting that place has far more impact than some new location one had never even observed before gaining access. Just as films so often feel slightly more “real” once you know CGI was minimal, the same can perhaps we said about game worlds when you find more of the visual world to be physically present than you perhaps expected.


As with last week’s piece, I’ve mainly been throwing out ideas here rather than putting forward a particular argument; I’m not yet sure myself where I stand on these questions, and I find the arguments I’ve outlined here (and I’m sure there are many others I’ve omitted) to be equally convincing on both sides. Ultimately, however, I am inclined to think that whether or not it “matters” how an artistic product was produced depends on our appreciation of that medium. I have the deepest appreciation of games and literature, a strong appreciation of cinema and television, and then from there I have a tremendous drop towards my level of appreciation of music, theatre, dance, poetry, and other cultural forms. This is not of course from any rejection of those forms, but they just don’t happen to be the cultural/media forms that especially interest me. But because I know games so well, I can “step behind the curtain” and appreciate how they were constructed if I so desire; I rarely do, but I have the knowledge and expertise to do that. By contrast, I have no real ability to do that for music, as I can barely tell instruments apart, let alone come to appreciate how the method by which an album was constructed should be considered when appreciating the final product.

This does not guarantee that I will have a more shallow experience of that piece of music than someone else, but it certainly alters the nature of my experience from the piece of art itself, to the piece of art and its methods of production. When one engages with the latter, its production methods inevitably find their way into one’s brain: I cannot view a film of a game without considering how it might have been created. Such elements have to matter when we are in a position to consider them, and are bound to influence our consumption of the art; but when we are without them, I don’t think we are any worse off. To return to games, which are after all the focus of this blog, I certainly don’t feel I lacked anything in my appreciation of games when I was younger and didn’t know much about game design, development, and production. Nevertheless, now that I do, I cannot help but appreciate something that subverts our expectations of game production, or a game that was a struggle for a single developer to produce, or a game whose visual or storytelling elements, perhaps, clearly demonstrate a remarkable commitment by its designers or writers. How much production methods matter perhaps therefore depends more than anything upon how much we know of those production methods, what production methods we have come to expect, and the extent to which a piece of media breaks away from those norms and tries something profoundly new – not the pure pragmatics of the basic processes that constitute programming, filming, or putting words to paper.

by Ultima Ratio Regum at September 19, 2016 02:57 PM