Action Roguelike Game Design I

If you follow me on twitter you know that one of the projects I’m working on is a video game. Although this was intended to mostly be a self improvement blog, I will occasionally foray into some of the stuff I’m working on. So fair warning that if you’re not interested in game design this post will probably bore you or go over your head.

Anyway, on to business. With the release of Binding of Isaac in 2011 an entire genre of what are best described as “action rogue-likes” was created. While I don’t think any of the follow-ups ever dethroned BoI or its sequel (and the subsequent add-ons and dlcs), the genre remains a favorite of independent game developers. It works very well with low res (read: relatively cheap, easy to produce) pixel art. It can support the kind of complex mechanics and interactions that serious game designers fantasize about endlessly. And most importantly, they are fun to play.

One of the more fun parts of Binding of Isaac is the ability to modify your primary weapon (tears) in various ways. You start off with low damage tears with medium range and medium rate of fire. As you collect power-ups you can both increase various parameters (tear speed, fire rate, damage, range) as well as the tears behavior (obtain arrow shaped tears that pierce through enemies, spectral tears that move through solid objects, or convert the tears altogether into different projectiles like bombs or rockets).

To make this work, however, you need a very wide variety of items (otherwise the game becomes predictive, and a lot of the enjoyment of BoI is that powerful combos are fairly rare, which makes them all the more satisfying when you get the items for one).

Other games, like Nuclear Throne or Enter the Gungeon take a different approach. They have many weapons (especially Enter the Gungeon, which as you might be able to tell by the name, revolves almost entirely around guns and ammunition, even the enemies are anthropomorphic bullets) but there isn’t a lot of modification for each individual one. The more subdued but moodier Our Darker Purpose is similar to Isaac in that the main character’s fire arrow can be customized a bit (although not to nearly the crazy stuff Isaac’s tears can do later in the game), and can also acquire secondary projectiles in the form of rolling flames or sound notes with short but erratic movement.

My own project’s development has slowed down considerably because for the longest time I couldn’t get a weapon system that satisfied every itch I had when it comes to playing games in this genre.

The game (working name Divine Arch) is still in pre-alpha, with only enough code to test ideas I need to see in action. I’m more focused on the design and producing graphics for now since the former is the most important part and the latter the most time consuming.

I’ve gone through several systems:

  • Different weapons that produce different projectiles. But this grossly overcomplicated their modification. Not enough mods per weapon and weapon progression feels shallow. But too many weapons and having mods for each one becomes a nightmare.
  • Class based weapons. This can be the best of both worlds but also the worst: 4 weapon types, all with different upgrade paths. You can still pick up mods that affect all weapons, but again, I would have to make A LOT of modifiers that are not gonna be available to the player unless they are playing with a specific class.
  • The Binding of Isaac model: different classes/characters all use the same basic weapon, pour all efforts into creating as many modifiers as possible. As BoI showed though, often modifiers simply end up overriding other modifiers because there is no reasonable way to implement them both (although synergies were somewhat improved with the latest DLC).

In the end, I am sticking with the model of giving each class their own weapon. However, I am keeping the direct upgrading fairly shallow. Each weapon has two vertical upgrades (upgrades that increase its power) and a choice of two horizontal upgrades (upgrades that add or modify function). IE: the Inquisitor’s bolts can be upgraded to either pierce through enemies or do extra damage with each subsequent hit on the first horizontal upgrade.

This (and 2-3 passive abilities per class) should be enough to differentiate the characters enough while the rest of the design effort will be put into items that provide improvements to every weapon and class.

For my next post on this subject I will go over my thoughts on character progression so stay tuned.

The Secret To Mind Control

Want to know how you can control the actions of just about any person in the Western world?

There is in fact this One Weird Trick that can be used to get the average person to do just about anything, no matter how insane, idiotic or self destructive it may be.

And the key to total domination is guilt.

The % of the general population that does not feel guilt is limited to a small number of psychopaths and/or swaggering alphas.

For the rest of us you, if you can convince somebody that they are guilty of a great wrong they must atone for, they will belong to you.

People will subject themselves to the most perverse of depravities to make their guilt go away.

Guilt is used by everybody, from charities to religious organizations (both theistic and atheistic) to politicians to build up fanatical followings of simpletons ready to do their bidding.

The Manosphere is no different. Tweets telling men they are bad for watching Netflix or playing video games or that they don’t deserve success if they don’t grind 24/7 are very popular.

The gurus spouting them gets lots of engagement for making them, which encourages them to keep doing it. Their followers receive psychological release from the guilt of not living up to the lofty expectations they have made for themselves.

It’s a very poisonous dynamic that has the guru trading his soul for dopamine and their followers wasting emotional (and sometimes physical) energy trying to live up to someone else’s ideal.

Save the guilt for monumental fuck-ups with a clear victim of your actions and NEVER allow someone to use guilt to chain you up into a never-ending repayment plan.