I said in an earlier blog post that part of what I'll be doing on this blog is recapping some of my previous efforts to both fill in space on this blog while I work on The Burning Plague, but also to give you an idea of some of the gameplay elements I have preferred in the past and will be likely to include again in the future.
Defender of the Deep was the first complete game that I wrote and it was for the 2011 Seven Day Roguelike competition.
Overall I think it works pretty well in a limited sort of way but is definitely restricted in terms of scope which hurts its replayability. I'll outline a few of the design decisions I made along the way which are probably more of interest to me than to the player who would likely have not cared about these things.
First thing's first, it's based on the excellent python and libtcod tutorial by Jotaf which has spawned a million cheap roguelike games and I would say has had a huge effect in terms of making the barrier for entry in writing an easy roguelike game so much lower. Each game that I've written since has been based on that tutorial in one way or another and The Burning Plague is no different, even though it departed from the structure of that tutorial very early on the piece and doesn't bear much resemblance to it now at all beyond a few class and variable names.
An attempt at an interesting setting
Each game I've worked on started with a setting of interest first with the hope of making it stand out from the crowd a bit by not following a traditional path. The Burning Plague is the exception to this because I'm deliberately embracing fantasy tropes for the sake of simplicity, but Defender of the Deep was designed from the beginning to be a game with a relatively modest and achievable scope but with a concentration on the inclusion of game elements which came with an addition of flavour to the game in terms of world building.
The player character in Defender of the Deep is a monster living within the dungeon which is being invaded by evil surface dwellers. You can be a kobold (high evasion), an orc (brute force warrior), or a goblin (crafty mix of the two). I'll talk a bit more about the setting shortly, because these character types are expanded upon by the influence the setting has on their abilities in the form of religious powers.
No health, mana or piety regeneration
I wanted to play around with this concept and it's something which I think worked quite well. Instead of allowing the player to stop and rest as soon as they are out of combat, the lack of regeneration means that a player needs to push forwards to find healing or mana potions to replenish those aspects of the character, with piety only being replenished upon the death of an enemy. There's no food clock in the game but it's this need for replenishment which pushes the character forwards in search of items and also introduces a real risk/reward trade off which needs to be considered before engaging in combat. An easy kill will boost your piety but you run the risk of damaging your health by unnecessarily picking a fight you don't need to win.
The idea of making every fight non-trivial appeals to me and that's largely behind this design decision.
I'm bored of games which focus on the conjurer blaster wizard (ie. see the dungeon crawl: stone soup conjurer) and I like the idea of making magic more subtle than that. In this game I simply removed magic per se and linked mana to the ability to use magic items. Which when I think about it now, those items are basically simple conjurations - obviously I didn't meet my goal with this aspect. It's my goal to continue this focus on subtle magic with The Burning Plague - there shouldn't be an obvious magic choice like Magic Missile or Fireball which just causes damage and does nothing else.
No experience and character levels
Building a character and forcing a player to become emotionally involved with the game usually relies on the gradual progression through character levels. I didn't think this was necessary for a coffee break game and I always have thought the idea was lazy. I understand that HP is supposed to be not just someone's physical robustness but also an abstraction of the ability of a veteran to minimize damage by their actions and survive in that way, but it's always struck me as a bit lazy.
In Defender of the Deep, character progression is essentially item-based. You are rewarded with a powerful item upon defeating what effectively amounts to a boss on each dungeon level. The items are common between games but the order in which you receive them isn't and they each improve a different aspect of your character, so you might find that your non-combat kobold suddenly develops offensive skills which make you reconsider the way you approach the next dungeon level in terms of tactics.
Non-existent or at least non-traditional magic items
I wasn't really interested in the idea of littering the dungeons with +1 daggers. Items are ordinary and they are what they look like on the surface with a couple of exceptions. And those exceptions are also plainly obvious.
Important religious system and god powers
This is probably the focus of the game in my eyes - each character type worships a different god lovingly ripped off from some Dungeons and Dragons source book which I can't remember now, and each god offers that character a different god power which can be used at the cost of piety. Piety is only restored upon killing an enemy.
The orc class power is fairly straightforward - it's effectively a berserk ability which greatly boosts your offence at the cost of making you more vulnerable for a period, with the idea being that you should be able to save up piety from a few of the easier kills to rely on this ability when the going gets tough. It's a simple character to play in that regard.
The kobold class is much weaker than the orc and its class power reflects that - it's the ability to disappear into invisibility for a short period. The idea behind this was that the kobold should be played in such a way as to pick and choose fights as much as possible and when cornered, to rely on this ability to slip away from a dangerous situation and live to fight again another day. By the end of the game, the kobold should be an adequate fighter and a solid magic user with this ability as a fallback.
The goblin is a bit different and in hindsight, probably the most powerful class. Goblins have the class power of cursing every enemy in sight. That curse reduces the power of enemies quite significantly and makes fights much more survivable. It leads to the questionable tactic of trying to be surrounded by as many enemies as possible before cursing them so that you affect as many as possible at the risk of being surrounded.
Overall, I was pretty happy with this game. I deliberately aimed low because my priority was to make sure the game was finished and I thought a solid way of making the game interesting was to try and include obvious flavour elements which the player would remember rather than sweating the details of a technically complicated combat system or beautiful procedural level generator or anything like that. It was a success in that sense and it probably turned out to be almost exactly the game I planned on from the beginning.