Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - LEVEL UP - BY ANAND RA­MACHAN­DRAN

Long af­ter the rest of the videogame world emerged out of their dark, hid­den cor­ners and em­braced the blind­ing lights of show busi­ness, one kind of game re­mained reclu­sive. While shoot­ers, ad­ven­tures, strat­egy games and sports games started ap­pear­ing in book and toy store shelves, main­stream ad­ver­tis­ing and even Hol­ly­wood films dur­ing the 1980s and ’90s, there was one genre that re­mained the pre­serve of the nerd, the geek, the hard­core.

It was the oddly named Roguelike—a role-play­ing sub­genre in which play­ers braved near-im­pos­si­ble odds to en­ter end­less dan­ger­ous dun­geons filled with fab­u­lous trea­sure guarded by vi­cious beasts and deadly traps. A genre where (gasp!) graph­ics were less im­por­tant than game­play, where dif­fi­culty was wel­come and n00bs were not. It was the nerd’s own genre—born of the un­holy union of Gary Gy­gax’s leg­endary Dun­geons and Dragons role-play­ing game and the ul­ti­mate geek ac­tiv­ity: com­puter pro­gram­ming. A spoon­ful of C++, a dash of die-rolling, some stats and num­bers to add a lit­tle crunch, some mon­sters here, some he­roes there, and some high fan­tasy sauce to add the flavour—a recipe for hours of en­ter­tain­ment. And thus, Rogue was born.

Rogue was a game in which you en­tered a dun­geon, with the sin­gle point ob­jec­tive of re­cov­er­ing the Amulet of Yen­dor (which os­ten­si­bly lay some­where within its depths) and es­cap­ing. This, how­ever, was next to im­pos­si­ble, thanks to slimes, trolls, gob­lins, bats, dragons and all other man- ner of beasts that lived in said dun­geon. Not to men­tion booby-trapped doors, chests that blew up and other such de­vi­ous de­vices of in­fi­nite dev­ilry. Then why would you even bother? Be­cause the dun­geon was ran­domly gen­er­ated and dif­fer­ent ev­ery time you played. Be­cause it was filled with trea­sures and loot. Be­cause it was fun to kill things. Be­cause, as you pro­gressed through the dun­geon, you con­stantly grew more pow­er­ful, gain­ing more skills and bet­ter weapons. And be­cause the game recorded how well you did—so you had a high score to as­pire to beat ev­ery time. These four sim­ple de­sign prin­ci­ples worked so well, and Rogue ended up be­ing so much fun that it birthed an en­tire genre of games that hard­core gamers loved (and still love) to play. Rogue in­spired .hack, which in turn in­spired the im­mor­tal Nethack, and there was no turn­ing back.

In many ways, Nethack re­mains the con­sum­mate Roguelike. It is so com­plex and chal­leng­ing that it takes even the most hard­core play­ers years to mas­ter it com­pletely. Yet it is so much fun that it of­fers an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence even for new play­ers. It has no graph­ics to speak of—ev­ery­thing in the game is rep­re­sented by some ASCII char­ac­ter (although a pro­gram called Fal­con’s Eye at­tempted to give it a rudi­men­tary graph­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion). The ran­dom­ness of the dun­geons makes sure that no two playthroughs are the same and are usu­ally re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent. It’s a thing of unadul­ter­ated geek­core beauty; Sa­lon mag­a­zine called it one of the great­est ex­pe­ri­ences in all of gam­ing, and it is reg­u­larly fea­tured in “great­est game of all

time” top lists.

Yet it is com­pletely in­ac­ces­si­ble to less hard­core play­ers, such as those who play

Counter-strike or Call of Duty (that felt good!). And the game nerds and geeks who love it were per­fectly happy that way; it was their own lit­tle se­cret trea­sure that no­body else could have.

How­ever, the main­stream­ing of the genre was in­evitable, re­ally. The core de­sign prin­ci­ples and struc­ture of Roguelike games are so rock-solid that ap­ply­ing them to more ac­ces­si­ble games with eye candy and bet­ter con­trols was bound to make for com­pelling games.

Per­haps the first game that suc­cess­fully made the tran­si­tion was Bl­iz­zard’s clas­sic hack and slash RPG Di­ablo. Although nowhere close to the depth and com­plex­ity of

Nethack, Di­ablo fea­tured a near per­fect im­ple­men­ta­tion of clas­sic Roguelike de­sign— ran­domly gen­er­ated dun­geons, in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter classes, spells and weapons, a su­perby paced loot and levelup cy­cle and ter­ri­fy­ing en­e­mies that were satisy­ing to kill. This mix made Di­ablo one of the most suc­cess­ful game ti­tles of all time—and brought the en­joy­ment of Rogue­likes to a mass mar­ket.

Main­stream fran­chises soon caught on to the idea. Poke­mon Mys­tery Dun­geon and Cho­cobo Dun­geon were hugely suc­cess­ful Roguelike spin-offs from ma­jor RPG fran­chises

( Poke­mon and Final Fan­tasy re­spec­tively). They sold mil­lions of copies and proved the fun­da­men­tal strength of Roguelike de­sign prin­ci­ples.

More re­cently, the rise of In­die game de­vel­op­ment (thanks to the emer­gence of dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion plat­forms like Steam, Xbox Live and mo­bile App stores) has seen a surge in Roguelike games avail­able on the mar­ket.

The ex­cel­lent Dun­geons of

Dred­mor from Gaslamp games is per­haps the clos­est mod­ern equiv­a­lent of Nethack— and has even been called its spir­i­tual suces­sor. It fea­tures all the clas­sic el­e­ments of Nethack— de­vi­ous dif­fi­culty, enor­mous num­ber of op­tions, in­ter­est­ing en­e­mies and traps, loot—and wraps it up in a hu­mor­ous style (you can sum­mon a dis­em­bod­ied mous­tache to fight for you, get killed by fly­ing cut­lery, and find coke ma­chines in the depths of the dun­geon) that makes for one of the most unique gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in years.

The ad­dic­tive and com­pelling Desk­top Dun­geons takes the Roguelike for­mula and gives it a twist: it is made for short, 10-minute play ses­sions. Per­fect for play­ing at work, or while wait­ing for your blood-test re­ports.

And its not just role-play­ing games that have found the Roguelike for­mula to be use­ful. Spelunky, a game in which you play an In­di­ana Jones type ad­ven­turer look­ing for trea­sure in caves, is a Roguelike plat­form game (it re­minds me of the old PC plat­form clas­sic,

Dan­ger­ous Dave). The ut­terly bizarre and won­der­ful Bind­ing

of Isaac ap­plies Roguelike prin­ci­ples to what is es­sen­tially a top-down shooter. It is a game in which you play a small boy on the run from his mur­der­ous mother, who needs to kill en­e­mies such as tur­d­cen­tipedes, dis­em­bod­ied hands and bees. She has to kill them us­ing pro­jec­tile tears. Don’t ask.

When fun­da­men­tally sound de­sign prin­ci­ples meet tal­ented game de­vel­op­ers and easy dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems, it can mean only one thing— lots of awe­some Roguelike games. If you haven’t played a Roguelike be­fore, now is a good time to be­gin. Just stay away from Nethack— un­less you are re­ally brave. Oh, and did I men­tion Nethack is free? [Signs off with evil laugh].

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.