I'm working away on a few things slowly in relation to The Burning Plague, but I thought it was time to update this blog and an entry about my most recent 7 day roguelike is probably next for me to do.
For this year's competition, I wrote Rasatala, an Indian-themed roguelike with an aim of being traditional in gameplay style but maintaining the directional combat and movement of Mujahid and incorporating that into an extended game without the same focus on a combat gimmick in the form of backstabbing.
You can download the game here: http://sites.google.com/site/rasatalarl/
If you're interested in watching someone play through the game and do a pretty good job of picking up the intricacies of gameplay, then take a look at the following Youtube from TheUberHunter who is doing a video review of every single game from this year's challenge, which is an absolutely monumental task.
I'll explain a few things about the game and set out what I was aiming for and discuss whether I think I acheived those goals or not.
Like my last two games, I was aiming for a unique twist on a the typical fantasy roguelike so the gameplay would be familiar but the style would be different and my hope was that this would be the thing that makes my game memorable, ie. that Indian roguelike should be identifiable enough just like I've seen some people refer to Mujahid as that Islamic roguelike.
I did a bit of research into ideas for different classes and Indian weaponary and armour to put the whole picture together as well as only trying to include monsters which pop up in Indian mythology and real life, such as nagas, spirits and tigers.
Of particular help was the Dungeons and Dragons extension Maharsarpa from which I lifted the names and locations as well as the bulk of the inspiration for character classes and items to be used throughout the game.
Distinct character classes
I really wanted to have a go at making different classes which played very differently with this game as that's something which is often very hard to squeeze into a game you are writing in just seven days but it's also one of the main features that I think roguelike players are interested in. There needs to be some degree of character customisation and development for players to get involved in the game and that's something I deliberately left out of my two previous seven day roguelikes.
In this instance, I went with the following classes which apart from their unusal names, fit into some fairly recognisable roguelike tropes:
- Kshatriya - named after the Indian social class made up of privileged warriors, they are your stock standard melee fighter with above average combat stats and a preference for taking on their challenges head on. I suspect that they're the simplest class to play but arguably the hardest class to win with because direct and thoughtless combat in Rasatala inevitably leads to a short game as health doesn't regenerate naturally and don't reward the player with experience or treasure directly in any event so they're therefore better avoided.
- Shikari - named after hunters and trackers from Indian history, this is essentially an archer class. They start with a bow and a quiver of arrows and they're absolutely lethal from the outset but crippled by a dependence on a non-renewable resource At a guess, I think they're probably the most powerful all-round class as long as you can keep finding quivers of arrows. Their special ability is double damage with ranged attacks which is very, very powerful and can dominate even the strongest enemies - but as I said earlier, they'll struggle very much if they find themselves out of arrows and backed into a corner.
- Brahmin - the mystic of Indian society and essentially in Rasatala they are designed to be a pacifist priest who gains insight and power as the adventure continues. They'll rely heavily on their bodyguard who enters the dungeon with them (and I'll discuss this in a bit more detail shortly) and their powers are decidely non-lethal. In fact, I don't think they would be able to beat many of the creatures in the game and their early game is brutal. But, if they're developed properly, the later powers they gain access to are very useful indeed, and without wanting to spoil it completely, they have the limited ability to shield themselves from attacks as long as they don't attack themselves, they can scry the dungeon around them to avoid danger and locate their goals quickly, and probably the most fun power of all is being able to convince some of the denizens of the dungeon to join forces with the player.
- Thug - with a name that refers to the group of organised assassins operating in India at various points in history, the Thuggee, who worshipped Kali, the god of violence and sexuality. In gameplay terms, they more closely resemble the player character in Mujahid, but instead of being able to kill instantly with a backstab, they do a lot more damage instead. They are weak fighters otherwise and terrible at hand-to-hand combat with an aware enemy, so they are best played as hit-and-run stealth fighters. They start with a smoke bomb for theatric getaways.
I included allied creatures in this game and while it doesn't probably have a huge impact on long-term gameplay (because your ally is usually too stupid to know when not to fight and winds up dead quickly) it adds a bit of variety to the early game. In particular, Brahmin will need to rely on their bodyguard initially even if it's only as a distraction, but Kshatriya come with a servant, Shikari have a companion of roughly equal combat prowess and it's only the untrustworthy Thug who enters the dungeon alone. If you manage to make it to the next dungeon level, your companion will make the journey with you. And as discussed a bit above, Brahmin might find themselves with some very interesting and powerful companions as the game progresses.
The goal was to make each monster different in terms of the challenge it presented and the tactics needed to get past them, either in combat or otherwise. An example is that the low-level enemy found first is likely to be a cultist who seems relatively easy to best in combat. But, the cultist possesses the same backstab ability as the Thug so it can be lethal to turn your back. Nagas are slow and very powerful so usually present no challenge to skirt around but are difficult to fight in melee. There are enemies without hands so doors prevent them from reaching you and enemies who move faster than others so you should try and avoid being seen in the first place. Deep within the dungeon, you might find an enemy who combines a few of these traits and presents a very difficult challenge.
Plot and progression
I alluded to this earlier, but a key feature of the game is a lack of natural regeneration of health or the game's equivalent of mana for that matter. The player needs to progress the plot via interaction with the spiritual guides found throughout the dungeon, the swamis, and by doing so they can receive healing, as well as upon completion of tasks, the game's equivalent of levelling up takes place and you have the chance to develop your character along a path of your choice. For instance, some characters have the choice of learning some low level Brahmin powers eventually but it's arguable as to whether this is worth the cost in terms of skills investment, while others can focus on attacking skills, evading attacks or their health and strength. There's no reason why the player needs to bother with the plot at all apart from character progression but if you dive straight to the bottom of the dungeon hoping to defeat the final evil within, you might find yourself overwhelmed.
Things I did badly
Overall, the game is pretty much what I was aiming for and I think it plays well and there's heaps of depth in terms of gameplay and I'm sure there's probably more to this game than most players would ever bother discovering due to it's almost certain limited popularity as it makes up just one entry in a huge swag of 7DRL entries this year.
But the big problem is that I think players will tire of the game before they get to this point and the main reason is the directional aspect of movement. While you can move without turning which can speed up travelling through the dungeon as long as you know where you're going, the exploration of the dungeon can feel fairly clunky and slow - particularly so because the random maps are created from a number of pre-defined pieces which are either rotated or reflected before being slotted together with some random deteroriation to make things interesting. While I'm pretty happy with that process of random dungeon generation, it has the effect of making the dungeon level a bit of a warren of caves and passages which fits badly on reflection with the extra keystrokes required to move around the dungeon. This is a pretty big negative.
I would also like to have included a bit more variety in terms of opponents, but that's a smaller point and probably a necessary thing in the context of a time limited development process.
So overall, I think Rasatala is a reasonably good game with a bit of exploration to be enjoyed in terms of working out the best way to use the game's mechanics as well as the different strengths of the character classes. I don't have any illusions of this game becoming a powerhouse of the roguelike world, but I'm glad that I saw the concept of directional facing and its importance in combat through to a reasonably complex conclusion and I feel that it's a good prototype if someone else is considering a similar approach for a game in the future.