IFComp 2011: Kerkerkruip

Spoilers follow the break.

Now, here’s a serious contender for the Golden Banana of Discord 1The unofficial prize for the game whose ratings from the hundreds of volunteer judges gets the highest standard deviation. , mainly because of the “But is it IF?” question. Kerkerkruip is, by design, a roguelike in IF form, using most of that genre’s defining features except for the top-down map. You want a plot? Here’s the plot: Kill the evil wizard. You don’t play this sort of game for the plot, you play it for the game.

And it’s a pretty good game, reminiscent of other recent small-scale roguelikes such as Desktop Dungeons. The randomized, combat-oriented text adventure is actually a pretty old form, going back to such paleo-adventures as The Wizard’s Tower/The Orb of Zot. But those ancient and forgotten titles were made in a simpler time, when our standards for game design weren’t very high. Kerkerkruip is more modern in its design. It makes a serious attempt to make randomized combat interesting for once, mainly by making it all about tradeoffs rather than upgrades. Most equipment helps you in some respect and hurts you in another — the most literal example being a suit of armor that protects you from combat damage but steadily eats away at your health.

One of the most important tradeoffs is the “concentrate” command, a combat action which makes your next attack more effective. Using this is crucial; some enemies are nearly impossible to beat without it. You can concentrate up to three times in a row with cumulative effects, but if you get hit, you lose your concentration and all its benefits. The monsters generally work the same way. This alone has a tremendous effect on the experience of randomized combat, turning it into something more like a bidding game where you try to figure out how much time you need to spend concentrating, and how much you can do safely.

I played up to the point of dying several times during my allotted two hours. I have yet to win the game, although I did make a credible attempt towards the end. There’s a modest amount special of content to be discovered and experimented with, mostly different sorts of equipment and rooms with special properties, but the game is really more about exploiting what you’ve already figured out than about figuring out more. That and stats. Every fight is a cascade of numbers, but at least they’re all meaningful numbers that you can learn from.

Still, the fact that it’s so stat-heavy and number-focused is going to turn off a segment of the audience here. I personally am the segment of the audience that this game is for. I know I’ve complained about RPG-ish comp entries with randomized combat before, but those were ones that did it badly — which most attempts do; this is something that’s a lot easier to do badly than well. Typing “attack” over and over is not fun. Developing tactics is. Kerkerkruip gets it right.

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1. The unofficial prize for the game whose ratings from the hundreds of volunteer judges gets the highest standard deviation.

1 Comment so far

  1. Victor Gijsbers on 16 Nov 2011

    Thanks for your excellent review — as you can imagine, I read it several times with great pleasure. And not just because it was positive, but because you clearly identified the central design decisions.

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