Dungeons of Dredmor: Jokeyness

I haven’t even mentioned the jokey aspects of Dredmor yet, which is a substantial oversight on my part. Usually I’d excuse this by saying that the jokes are superficial, and don’t intrude into the realm of gameplay, where the player’s attention is. But that’s just not true here. The jokes are pervasive at every level, and impossible to ignore. Take damage types: in addition to traditional things like fire damage and electrical damage (which tend to have higher-faluting names within the game, such as “conflagatory” and “voltaic”), there’s existential damage. Crafting skills let you make weapons and armor not just from bronze and steel, but from aluminum and plastic, both of which come in ingots. Randomized magic items have names pieced together out of random words, with madlibs-like results. There’s a magic item that can turn any object into lutefisk, which is more useful than it sounds, because of the various altars to the Lutefisk God scattered around waiting for suitable offerings. There’s one other deity represented in shrines throughout the dungeon: Inconsequentia, goddess of side-quests. who can send you to take on special monster teams with more jovially-randomized names.

In short, it’s a lot like Kingdom of Loathing, but more offhand about it. Which should increase the humor value. The thing is, I’m not really finding the game funny. The death message, “Congratulations! You have died”, always provokes a chuckle, which takes a bit of the sting off the death, but other than that, I don’t think I’ve laughed once while playing this game. The humor more works to set a tone, to establish a particular kind of rapport with the player. It’s not funny, it’s jokey.

And really, this is something that’s traditional in CRPGs. Nethack is quite jokey, providing cream pies as missile weapons and suchlike. The original Wizardry had a jokey heart. Dredmor is unusually dense with jokeyness, but it’s just a difference of degree. Perhaps there’s something about the mechanics of an RPG that invites such an attitude, an absurdity to the whole business of gaining levels that makes the author want to reassure the players that they shouldn’t be taking it too seriously, that it should be treated as something more like a tall tale than a believable simulation of a world.

Dungeons of Dredmor: Patch and Crafting

Right after my last post, Dungeons of Dredmor got a pretty major patch, which Steam downloaded for me automatically. It always feels a little strange when a game spontaneously changes in significant ways just a few days after I start playing it, particularly an offline, single-player game. And it is a pretty major update: there are three entirely new equipment slots (for gloves, belt, and trousers), an entire skill specialization has been removed and its component skills shuffled into other specializations (apparently rendering one of the Steam achievements unachievable), new varieties of trap and vending machine have sprouted. Before the patch, wands used a strange and experimental system of “entropy” and “burn rate” to determine at random when they would become useless; after, they use a more conventional system of charges, which is a little disappointing to me, as I was looking forward to mastering the less-familiar system.

The single most intrusive change is the new crafting interface: the changelog states “we stole the old one from Minecraft, we stole the new one from Terraria”. What this means is that instead of putting items into slots in a special interface and hitting a button to put a combined item in another slot, with an optional recipe list to expedite the process, the recipe list is now all there is. You scroll this list until the recipe is under an unmoving pointer, then hit a button to execute it, using items from your inventory. This means it’s no longer possible to abuse the crafting interface to extend your carrying capacity, which is probably a good thing all told.

I find the new system unsatisfactory in a number of ways, however. The icons representing the recipe targets no longer have tooltips, leaving me guessing a little about what I’m creating. The scrolling list, unlike other scrolling lists in the game, doesn’t recognize the mouse scrollwheel, and the interface itself, unlike all other pop-up interfaces in the game, can’t be closed by pressing ESC. These are obviously bugs, though, and will probably be addressed in further revisions — indeed, I notice that Steam has downloaded another patch as I write this, so they may even be addressed already. But the interface is by its nature less convenient for certain things, like making ingots out of ore. Ingots are the basic ingredients for most smithing recipes, and ore is the basic ingredient for ingots. It doesn’t have a lot of other uses, so in most cases, you want to smelt your ore the moment you find it. In the old interface, you’d do this by picking up the ore off the ground and throwing it into your portable ingot-making tool, then hitting the “smelt” button. In the new interface, you have to find the appropriate recipe in the scrolling list, which slows the process down considerably. To make matters worse, you can’t just click on the recipe when it comes into view. You have to scroll it to the center, the spot pointed to by that pointer.

But again, maybe they’ve improved this already. And if they haven’t, they probably will. It may feel a little strange to play a game that’s being frequently patched, but it has advantages.

Dungeons of Dredmor: First Death

Actually what I’m reporting is my second death. My first game was over quickly enough that I don’t think it counts. My second lasted long enough for me to explore the first six floors of the dungeon quite thoroughly, and start on the seventh. A modicum of care and caution is all it takes to keep a game going for hours, it turns out, because there’s no hunger factor or anything forcing you to keep moving downward faster than you’d like. (Food exists, but is pretty much optional. It just gives you a buff that temporarily increases your healing rate to one hit point per turn.) And that care really should have carried me longer than it did. My death, as is traditional in roguelikes, was a stupid one.

It started with a treasure zoo. This is a blatant nethackism: on most levels (possibly all; I didn’t really keep track), there is a room completely full of monsters, which typically come flooding out the moment you open the door, accompanied by frantic zoo music. I pretty much knew how to handle zoos by this point, of course. I was playing a melee specialist, having chosen this for its simplicity so I could get used to the basics of the game, so I didn’t have a lot of power to kill multiple monsters at once. Taking on a zoo meant fighting more monsters than I could comfortably handle, and periodically falling back to heal and recover. In extreme cases, it meant retreating all the way to the stairs to the previous level.

The problem here was that the zoo was extremely close to those stairs. I managed to retreat to it once, but the monsters mobbed around me so close that I was completely surrounded when I came back down. And that created a problem I wasn’t anticipating when I went back down. The way you go up a staircase in this game is by moving onto it. Thus, in order to go back up a staircase you just came down, you have to move off it and back on again. But if you can’t move due to all the monsters crowded around you, you can’t do that.

Now, if all that had happened was that I got surrounded and killed because stairs don’t work right, I would call it a cheap shot. But I managed to make a pretty good go of it. The monsters whittled me down to near death, but I had some emergency supplies that helped me to survive: buff potions, healing supplies, food. The food effect may not sound like much, but I’m finding that, for a heavily-armored melee fighter, this is a game of margins. Most monsters’ attacks weren’t doing me a lot of damage; I just had to make sure that I was regaining health at an overall faster rate than I was losing it. Elemental resistance also seems to be a big part of this. On most of the dungeon floors that I’ve seen, there’s a dominant elemental damage type, and donning an item that grants even one point of resistance to that type can be a big win.

Also, at one point during this fight, I gained an experience level, which heals you instantly to your new maximum health. But I couldn’t count on that happening again, and I was running out of useful potions, so I looked for other options. My best bet seemed to be that Knightly Leap skill that I mentioned in my last post. There was one spot that it looked like I could jump to, just past the mob, and from there I could possibly make a break for a side chamber that was a little farther away from the zoo, possibly far enough away that I’d stop attracting fresh monsters to replace every kill. Alternately, perhaps I could wait for the cooldown on the Leap to expire and leap back to the stairs, hopefully triggering them.

Neither of those things happened. The spot I was aiming for was not in fact one I could leap to — I think a corner of irregularly-shaped wall was keeping it out of direct line-of-sight. Discovering this on selecting the Leap action, I, like a fool, just poked around with it until I found a spot I could leap to, heedless of whether it was a spot that exposed me to more monster attacks. And that was that. I had put up a valiant fight that lasted a lot longer than I was expecting, and it’s conceivable that I could have pulled through if I hadn’t made that mistake. But that’s far from certain.

The thing is, I’m not even all that disappointed in my stupid death. You have to take this sort of thing in stride if you play roguelikes. And besides, it gives me an opportunity to try out a new character, with a different set of skills. I was thinking at first that once this game was over, one way or another, I’d take a break and play a different game for a while. But I’m honestly impatient to try out more of Dredmor possibilities.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Now, here’s a game I’ve been hearing good things about lately. Dungeons of Dredmor is a roguelike. I’ve commented before about the looseness with which this term is bandied about lately, but Dredmor really means it. We’re talking not just random maps and permadeath here. Dredmor fits the classical roguelike descriptor in every way except two, those being the shuffling of item effects from game to game and the graphics made of text characters. I could imagine a character-graphics version of the game. It would wind up losing much of the UI slickness, like the tooltips, but it wouldn’t play fundamentally differently.

Other than that, it’s so roguelike that it can steal some of Nethack‘s gameplay gags. For example, there’s the Knightly Leap skill, learnable by characters who specialize in dodging. At first I couldn’t figure out how to make this work, but then I realized that it’s just like the Knight class’s #jump command in Nethack — which is to say, it only lets you jump like a knight in chess. The game doesn’t explain this, which effectively makes it into a puzzle, albeit one that’s easier for people who have played other roguelikes. And that seems to be a major factor in the game as a whole. At least at the early stages, it’s not so much about fighting monsters as exploring your options and figuring out what’s possible.

The thing is, after investing a few hours into a game, I’ve become reluctant to try things that might be unsafe. I should note that the permadeath is optional: when you start a game, you get a menu of difficulty settings and other options, prominently including a big checkbox for permadeath. But it’s checked by default, and besides, as an experienced player of roguelikes, it just seems proper to me. But I’m not even talking just about death. This is a game with a major crafting element, with recipes for potions and armor and whatnot learnable from bookshelves you find in the dungeon. I’ve started finding equipment recipes that require items I’ve previously found and wasted, either by consuming them to find out what they do (some of the more exotic magic items take potions as ingredients), or by selling them to shops. So now I’m reluctant to throw anything out in case I find a use for it later. But your inventory is painfully limited — the block of slots looks nicely large when you first see it, but you can easily fill up entire rows just with different kinds of cheese. (And yes, cheese can be a crafting ingredient.) Crafting tools can extend your carrying capacity a little by holding items in their ingredient slots, but this is awkward when you actually want to craft something. So I’ve been spending a great deal of time just managing objects. There’s a large room on one level that I’ve made into my dump and warehouse, with items sorted by type, and I go back there whenever my inventory is full or I need to spend some time healing. If I die now, it’ll seem like wasted effort.