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Thaumaturge

Roguelikes and "dice"-based combat

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I've been thinking about roguelikes and roguelites of late, and I'm (genuinely) curious about something:

 

In my (admittedly limited) experience and to the best of my knowledge, highly-traditional roguelikes tend to use combat based heavily around random numbers: you bump into (or click on, or whatever) an enemy, one or more "die-rolls" are performed to determine whether you hit, and if so, another is performed to determine your damage. If the enemy survives, the turn passes to it. Barring a few tactics like kiting the foe into a trap or taking advantage of mechanics like attacks of opportunity, there's little apparent space for player skill in the game

 

So, in particular to fans of traditional roguelikes, do you enjoy this sort of combat, and if so, what is it that you find enjoyable about it?

 

These questions came about (at least in part) as a result of the fact that I've recently been playing both Delver and Pixel Dungeon. Delver I've been very much enjoying, while Pixel Dungeon I'm finding somewhat frustrating, and I've concluded that the main difference is in the combat: I don't feel that I have much real agency in Pixel Dungeon. When a foe kills me in Delver, I generally (and barring one or two annoying enemies) feel that it's because of a mistake that I made: I foolishly blundered into a teleportation trap and found myself surrounded by foes and disoriented, or didn't manage to avoid its attacks, or kept missing with my wands, or some such thing. In Pixel Dungeon, I feel that my skill (or lack thereof) has little to do with anything: I lose because the metaphorical "dice" say I lose, and that I find frustrating.

 

(To some degree I also dislike having to identify items, but that's primarily as a result of the general paucity in methods of doing so: I seem to end up either not using potentially-valuable items, or taking the reckless (but in some cases worthwhile) approach of experimentation. That, however, is more a niggle than a major annoyance, and I might enjoy the mechanic if there were simply more resources for identification, perhaps at various costs or tradeoffs. It might be worth noting that Delver seems to have fairly light costs for experimentation, making it a fairly viable course of action in that game.)

 

On examination, I feel that I enjoy most of the elements of traditional roguelikes, save the combat. I like randomly-generated dungeons, random (and better yet, randomly-generated) loot, and random enemy placement. I just don't like randomly-resolved combat.

 

However, it does seem that there are those who enjoy such gameplay, and thus I'm here looking for illumination on that perspective. happy.png

 

(One quick note: I don't want to get into the morass that is the debate about what does or does not qualify as a "roguelike", and what falls under the label of "roguelite". That's another argument for another thread! ^^; )

Edited by Thaumaturge

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In traditional styles the 'skill' is in decisions and thinking several moves ahead. Yes, it is highly random, and you can get sessions where you get a series of really bad rolls which lead to situations where you can't see a way out, but that is part of the game. Often if you die it was because you over extended yourself, moved too deep and let yourself get caught fighting too much too close together and couldn't make use of healing methods. It [i]Is[/i] a risk and gamble when you move to 'the next square', but you're not really meant to just keep moving forward blindly. Careful thinking with regards to the mechanics is where the skill lies in many of these games, and making decisions like taking several steps back before moving forward to make sure the combat happens when and where it is most favourable. (Usually very applicable to ones that implement some kind of character collision detection, and forcing combat into bottle necks where you aren't as easily flanked for example.)

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For what it's worth, I do employ at least some of those tactics that you describe (bottlenecking in particular)--but even so, a single low-level rat can still kill my character if the dice say so, simply by giving me a string of bad rolls and it a string of good ones.
 

In traditional styles the 'skill' is in decisions and thinking several moves ahead.
...
Careful thinking with regards to the mechanics is where the skill lies in many of these games ...

Hmm... Okay, that does make sense and I do see the appeal of that, I do believe--but isn't that appeal undercut when all one's careful strategy and tactics can be undone by the whim of the "dice"?
 
I found the following points on the Pixel Dungeon wiki:

Even with ideal play, your results will be heavily based on luck and you will only rarely have a “successful” playthrough.

(Reference)
 
And from a different section:

You may expect 1 successful game for 7 to 10 tries for warrior,1 for 12 to 15 for mage, and 1 for 20 to 25  rogue, but these numbers are just an estimation.

(I presume that those numbers are given presuming ideal play.)
(Reference)
 
This seems to indicate that even if one makes no mistakes at all, one's skill can--and is very likely to be--undone entirely by a set of bad "rolls".

 

Naturally, the numbers above are specific to Pixel Dungeon and may not reflect other traditional roguelikes; however, my impression--and I do stand to be corrected--is that this pattern, on one scale or another, is fairly typical of the genre.
 

Yes, it is highly random, and you can get sessions where you get a series of really bad rolls which lead to situations where you can't see a way out, but that is part of the game.

Fair enough.

 

This prompts a new question: How would you feel about a game that was just the same as a traditional roguelike in every way--cruelly difficult, sparing with resources, turn-based, and requiring clever and careful strategic play in order to win--but in which combat was based entirely on player-skill (presuming that the skill involved wasn't an action-game skill, and was one that you enjoyed using--perhaps some sort of microcosm of the base gameplay), such that a hypothetical "perfect" player could expect to win every or nearly-every game by virtue of skill? Would that improve the game for you, lessen it, or have no effect?
 
One thing that might be worth mentioning regarding my own perspective: I don't enjoy casino-style gambling--slot machines, roulette, etc. From my perspective there's little real attraction to them.

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Dont look at pixel dungeon beyond a time waster. Theres no strategy beyond constantly rerolling a game till you find a decent weapon on the first 2 floors.

Never played delver before. If youre on a computer though you should check out dungeon crawl stone soup. Out of all the roguelikes if played it has the best tactics in my oppinion.

It can get tedious sometimes do to its length. But at any point in the game anything cankill you if youre being careless. 99% of everything has a use. Amd dieing with anything in your inventory usually means you couldve survived if you used what was in your inventory.

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Roguelike games, such as Nethack and family, are tactics games.

 

The games you mentioned are crappy games with random outcomes. These are NOT tactics games.

 

Tactics games are based on stats and probabilities.

 

For example, let's assume you are playing nethack. You see a creature you aren't familiar with, you can look it up in the monster manual. You're fairly high level, and the creature, an Archon, looks tough. Possibly five attacks per turn: gaze attack that stuns+blinds for 2d6 turns, two projectile weapons at 2d4, claw attack of 1d8, and an occasional spell that at your current level is 9d6. Resistant to fire, cold, sleep, electricity, and poison. Speed 16, can fly/float, can see invisible   With all that information you can decide if you want to run away, or if you want to risk attacking it.  As it deals damage you can track how much damage you did to it, and tactically decide what attacks you want.

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Dont look at pixel dungeon beyond a time waster.

 

The games you mentioned are <omitted>y games with random outcomes. These are NOT tactics games.

Heh, it's quite possible that I've simply been primarily exposed to poor examples of the genre.

 

Thankfully Pixel Dungeon was at least free.

 

For reference, the roguelikes (excluding roguelites and similar) that offhand I recall playing are:

  • Rogue
    • Which is understandably a primitive form of the genre.
  • Pixel Dungeon
    • Which I now gather is a poor implementation of the genre.
  • Delver
    • Its inclusion as a "roguelike" is probably debatable--but again, I don't really want to get into the argument regarding definitions in this thread. ^^; Suffice it to say that, for me, personally and intuitively, it feels more like a roguelike than a roguelite. It's also rather fun. (It's not really a tactical game, however.)
  • A brief foray into Nethack
    • This was some years ago; I think that at the time I was scared away by the sheer number of possibilities. ^^;
  • A few others, I think, but which I only vaguely recall.
    • Again, I believe that I tried these many years ago, now.

 

When I consider games outside of the roguelike genre there have, I believe, been other cases in which randomly-determined combat results were a frustration to me. In Battle for Wesnoth I was an inveterate save-scummer (for which I feel no shame), because having my troops keep missing due to unlucky rolls just felt frustrating--especially in a game in which holding onto individual units gave significant benefits. Morrowind suffered from being in the first-person, thus making the random determination of hits feel somewhat unfair.

 

That said, I will admit that, as far as I recall, I didn't mind the process as (I believe) implemented in Neverwinter Nights or the Baldur's Gate games--and a large part of this, I think, is that the effect of the random die-rolls seems to have been far lower than that of actual tactics. Poor tactics could lose a battle, while poor die-rolls might cost one or two extra spells or potions, or prompt a change in tactics. As you say, they were tactical games.

 

I think that I'd still prefer that the random die-rolls weren't present in them, but in games like the RPGs just listed they at least didn't feel as prevalent as in the roguelikes that I'm familiar with.

 

 

With all that information you can decide if you want to run away, or if you want to risk attacking it.

Heh, my experience thus far--in Rogue and Pixel Dungeon, at least--has been that running away has tended to be counter-productive: the monsters just follow, leaving me to either turn and face them or run a high risk of ending up sandwiched between the pursuer and some new foe ahead, sealing my fate. (I note here that random spawning of monsters means that even previously-visited sections of the dungeon may not be safe to run to.)

 

I take it, then, that other games make running away a more viable tactic?

 

 

If youre on a computer though you should check out dungeon crawl stone soup.

Hmm... Having looked that up (I'm playing on an Android 'phone at the moment, but there does seem to be an Android version), it looks as though Stone Soup might be quite good. There are some elements (primarily in the setting and writing) that put me off a little as a matter of personal preference, but I intend to give it further consideration--thank you for the recommendation. happy.png

Edited by Thaumaturge

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I take it, then, that other games make running away a more viable tactic?
Yes, in most of the big roguelike games running -- at least in the short term -- is a very good tactic. Sometimes it means locking a door behind you and staying in the same level, sometimes it means fleeing to another level, sometimes it means more dramatic measures. However, some creatures are smart enough to open or smash down doors, some creatures are smart enough to follow between levels. 

 

Nethack and family (Angband, etc) are very numbers-heavy tactical games. By looking over your character's stats and knowing the dungeon depth you can quickly see if the player is in over their heads, or if they have a moderately good chance of survival. 

 

Your odds of survival are quite slim, most nethack players die the first few hundred times they play. It took over 3 years before my first time finishing the game. If you are not used to tactics games, to going slow, you will likely lose. At the first sign of trouble list your inventory, save, and quit. Give it some time, figure out your options, and then carefully react. I've had times where in my rush to play I died while carrying blessed scrolls of genocide -- I could have removed the creatures from existence -- or carrying scrolls of taming -- I could have made them into pets or at least peaceful -- and amulets of lifesaving. Never be in a rush with a turn-based tactical game.

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For what it's worth, I do employ at least some of those tactics that you describe (bottlenecking in particular)--but even so, a single low-level rat can still kill my character if the dice say so, simply by giving me a string of bad rolls and it a string of good ones.

One way to alleviate that is to not use "pure random", but to use a more controlled form of fake randomness.

 

Imagine a player has 70% accuracy. Instead of rolling "if(random() < 0.7)" for every attack, which yes, could make the player miss two hundred times in a row, an alternative method is to generate the player's next N hits, and then shuffle them.

 

For example, with 70% accuracy, you might populate a stack of the next 100 attacks, fill it with 70 "hits" and 30 "misses", and then shuffle the stack. For each attack, you pop off the top of the stack, and when the stack reaches empty, you regenerate it.

This guarantees that the player will never happen to get completely crappy roles (and it also guarantees that the player will miss some of the time).

You can apply additional rules to it: Such as making the misses evenly distributed instead of clustered together. You can also mix in additional effects besides just missing and hitting, like criticals, enemy ripostes, and so on.

And you can still add in some randomness. If the player's accuracy is 70%, then generate a stack of 100 attacks where 70% plus or minus 5% is a hit. Tweak it to your satisfaction. But control it, as a designer.

 

The same applies to all forms of randomization. You don't want every chest to randomly be trash, and you don't want every chest to randomly be 'epic gear of unbalanced power'. You don't want every door to be trapped, and you don't want zero doors to be trapped.

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Yes, in most of the big roguelike games running -- at least in the short term -- is a very good tactic. Sometimes it means locking a door behind you and staying in the same level, sometimes it means fleeing to another level, sometimes it means more dramatic measures. However, some creatures are smart enough to open or smash down doors, some creatures are smart enough to follow between levels.

Interesting--and perhaps another point in favour of the theory that I've simply not been playing the right games.

 

 

If you are not used to tactics games, to going slow, you will likely lose.

I've played other tactical games (I mentioned the Baldur's Gate games, for example; the specific style of combat may be different, but it's far from a mindless hack-and-slash, as I recall it). I'm probably not accustomed to tactics games that are quite as numbers-heavy as you're describing the Nethack family to be, in all fairness.

 

 

One way to alleviate that is to not use "pure random", but to use a more controlled form of fake randomness.

...

That actually looks like a pretty decent and quite clever implementation, actually; I could see myself enjoying a game based on such. ^_^

 

 

... and you don't want every chest to randomly be 'epic gear of unbalanced power'.

A guy can dream, can't he? :P

 

So, based on what I've learned thus far in this thread. I think that if I were to look for a roguelike now, I'd probably look for something less intensive than the Nethack family, but with more depth and better gameplay than Rogue or Pixel Dungeon. I'd still prefer that random numbers weren't involved in the resolution of combat--I'd be enjoying the combat in spite of the use of random numbers rather than because of it, I feel, but would at least be enjoying said combat--but it does seem that there are likely implementations that I'd be happy-enough with. (I don't believe that random numbers as the basis of combat resolution are a requirement for all forms of tactical gameplay.)

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There are a lot of computer games that use randomness - seems very common in RPGs (not just the "roguelikes"), also strategy games. It can be frustrating sometimes if it seems unfair ("Spearman killed my tank!", or just seemingly repeatedly losing), but also helps make gameplay significantly less repeatable.

I think it helps to avoid things that are uniformly random, but tie it into things like stats or skills, so the player can improve their chances (as frob says - you can still play tactically with non-deterministic outcomes). I remember years ago reading about a computer version of Warhammer (I think it was) - the tabletop game version had some cannon that would blow up on the roll of 1, which the developers argued worked in a board game where you throw the dice, but would just annoy players of a computer game, so they removed it.

Edited by mdwh

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One way to alleviate that is to not use "pure random", but to use a more controlled form of fake randomness.

 

That's not dissimilar to how puzzle games work. In a game like Tetris, the pieces are not random, but taken from an order that loops and guarantees that you can play indefinitely with perfect play. Its also a controlled kind if randomness.

Edited by Ravyne

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There are a lot of computer games that use randomness - seems very common in RPGs (not just the "roguelikes"), also strategy games. It can be frustrating sometimes if it seems unfair ("Spearman killed my tank!", or just seemingly repeatedly losing), but also helps make gameplay significantly less repeatable.

For me, at least, the way that the randomness is used makes a big difference: I find randomness in combat outcomes (whether by virtue of "to-hit" rolls, damage values, or otherwise) to be tolerable in its best implementations, and thoroughly frustrating in its worst. On the other hand, I find that randomness (well-applied, at least) in level, enemy or item generation, or in enemy AI, can be a great boon, both in moment-to-moment gameplay and in increasing the replayability of the experience.

 

 

That's not dissimilar to how puzzle games work. In a game like Tetris, the pieces are not random, but taken from an order that loops and guarantees that you can play indefinitely with perfect play. Its also a controlled kind if randomness.

That makes a lot of sense. I dare not consider just how much work went into coming up with an order that did so guarantee indefinite play! o_o

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I've come to believe that randomness in combat resolution isn't really a desirable element for most games. In general, when you have your hero at level X encounter an enemy of level Y, you know how you want the battle to turn out. You know how long the battle should ideally take and how much damage the player should walk away with or whether the enemy is too powerful at this time unless you happen to have an artifact of awesomeness. Ultimately, you know what player experience should be and you want the player to win.

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For me, at least, the way that the randomness is used makes a big difference: I find randomness in combat outcomes (whether by virtue of "to-hit" rolls, damage values, or otherwise) to be tolerable in its best implementations, and thoroughly frustrating in its worst.
That is likely in part due to how the numbers are generated.

 

The worst implementations use a simple RNG for everything. They don't consider how values in nature are rarely an exactly perfect equal distribution.

 

Better implementations use distribution curves.  

 

Many games use dice rolls because they are well documented and easy to play with. Giving dice rolls allows you to pick both the number ranges and the distribution curves. If you're looking for numbers between about 0 and about 20, you may want to consider many different dice roll combinations. Options such as 1d20, 2d10, 2d8, 3d6, 5d4 range from flat random probability of about 5% on 1d20, through a very sharp distribution on 5d4 giving only 0.1% of rolling a 20 but a 15.14% chance of rolling the central numbers.

 

Many of the better (custom in-studio) game engines I've used allowed specific distribution curves designers can play with. They could pick between various options. Some options include "weighted values" (give both the numbers and the weight, the tool sums all the weights and shows each discrete value's probability as a bar graph to the designer), "uniform distribution" (flat percentages),  "normal distribution" (the classic bell curve), "exponential distribution" (mostly one end, higher values become increasingly rare), "gamma distribution" (typically biased toward about the 1/4 mark, can be sometimes lower or rarely higher", or "sigmoid" (looks like an S). The tuning tools allow a designer to play with values. 

 

As the programmers we marked the variable as a tuneable probability value and call it done. Tuning values are automatically loaded at startup, so we can immediately use the value designers provde, such as bool thingHappened = chanceOfThing.asBool(); or perhaps float result = chanceofThing.asFloat( lowValue, highValue );

 

Good design and gameplay tuning is hard work, consequently many of the cheap and easy games ignore it. Some games make 20 items with equal probability and then label one as 'rare', better games make sure statistically it really is rare. Cheap games will just pick a random number for damage; better games are careful with their math, recognizing you will probably normally score a mediocre hit, will sometimes miss, sometimes have a solid hit, and occasionally deal a critical blow, and the numbers are based on both of their skills, both of their equipment, and potentially other factors.  A level 20 warrior versus a level 2 hobgoblin will almost always deal a critical blow, but the same level 20 warrior attacking a level 30 well-equipped Master Lich is going to find most attacks evaded or blocked, but they'll still have a tiny chance of cutting off an arm or even the lich's head with an extremely lucky strike.

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I've come to believe that randomness in combat resolution isn't really a desirable element for most games.

I will grant one thing to it: it can keep the player on their toes by making the outcome somewhat uncertain.

 

 

That is likely in part due to how the numbers are generated.

I'm not quite sure of what you're saying here; are you giving that (and the rest of your post) as the difference between what I describe as the "best" and "worst" implementations, or are you arguing that I simply haven't found a game that generates the numbers well enough that the use of random numbers rises above the level of "tolerable"?

 

If the former, then that does indeed make sense.

 

(It's quite possible that I'm missing something or misreading you: I am and have been pretty tired these past two days (hence the delay in my response). ^^; )

 

At the moment, based on the arguments already presented and further thought on my part, I do now agree that careful, subdued use of random numbers can be a positive thing in combat resolution. In summary, my feelings now are that:

  • Feedback helps: in a third-person, indirect-control game (such as Neverwinter Nights or Baldur's Gate -1 or -2) seeing a character dodge makes a "miss" rather more palatable than seeing a sword pass through a foe and just seeing "miss" pop up.
    • Additionally, some degree of randomness can help to vary non-trivial fights: it's more fun to see whiffs, hits, dodges and so on than two figures mechanically beating on each other, inevitably doing the same damage with each swing.
  • In a game in which I'm in direct control, and especially in a first-person game, I'm likely to want my attacks to hit if they seem to land: if enemies can "dodge", I would want, I believe, that an attack that would have missed but which the enemy dodged into should land. I don't think that I'd like to-hit rolls here. (Morrowind, this means you. >:()
  • I prefer the effect of random numbers to be fairly subtle for the most part: I want the majority of the difference to come from my own skill and the roster of abilities available to my characters, rather than from their statistics or die-rolls.
    • For one thing, statistical differences tend to be somewhat difficult to spot in play: I was doing ten damage, I levelled up and now do twelve; the difference is there, mathematically--I'll go through enemies faster--but I feel that the difference tends to not be as palpable or rewarding as getting a nice, shiny new ability to use.
    • Nevertheless, as has been pointed out, some degree of randomness does help, and can force the player to change tactics in response to the variations in how their resources and those of their enemies are used up.

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There's also a principle that I think can be attributed to Michael Brough (it's there in ZAGA-33 and 868-HACK), that dungeon randomization should already be enough to guarantee variety.  You can have completely deterministic combat and still have every battle turn out differently, because they all start from different initial conditions.  (I think these two games still use randomness to determine enemy movement, but even this could be made deterministic.)  Hoplite is like this too, plus no random enemy movement if I recall.  So it's all just dungeon randomization + the player's input that determines the result of the game.

 

(I have a roguelike idea in my "idea folder" where it's *only* the player's input that matters.  The player starts in a large, mostly empty room, and the dungeon is progressively generated offscreen using the player's first N movements as input.)

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To me, it all falls down to statistical distribution.

 

In a D&D environment, where everything is determined at equal odds (a single die with 20 faces, with 1/20 chance of hitting just about any result) I feel like I am not depicting the usual outcomes of real life and I can find that frustrating. Most computer-engineered RNG (random number generators) are determined at equal odds (give me a number between 1 and X).

 

Personally, I prefer algorithms that simulate 2-3+ dice rolls added together.

For example, I find that, in the "real world" something that revolves around throwing 3d6 will be much more interesting, because you are much more likely to get "9" than "3".

The closer to the middle of the curve, the more likely it is to happen (this is a normal distribution) and it feels more normal too.

 

From a player's standpoint, it makes risk management more believable. If you know you are throwing 3d6, you know that "on average" you will get a 9 (is it enough to hit?). But the term "on average" doesn't only mean the mathematical average here, it also means that, more often than not, you'll fire a 9 +/- 3 and rarely will get anything else. Getting a 3 would be a highly unlucky roll (1 chance in 216).

 

Having this sort of insight into actual risk management alleviates the feel of being "cheated by the dice" and an "unlucky streak". Sure, they can still happen, but are that much less likely. It does diminish the role of dice slightly, but they remain a controller factor of luck withing the game design which introduces risk and hidden information to the player.

 

The general concept here is that, on average, you can kill a wolf (*assuming a 8+ kills a wolf, or whatever) but it remains a foe you need to be cautious with. It's not like you can kill it in your sleep, and if you slip while going for the kill, you're opening yourself to a potential counter. Now, you might just off and kill rabbits (which would require a 5+) but the reward would not be as satisfying.

 

All purely theoretical, and mostly geared at the statistical side of the problem, but I hope it sheds some light.

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I've never played Delver, but it claims it is a first person action rouge-like... which means to me that it it has procedure content, perma-death, and is particularly hard... the action part implies (to me) that it is not turn based... which means that in a fight or encounter my survival can boil down to my personal maximum actions per minute. I don't want all my games to be a measure of how quickly I twitch my fingers. In games like this I tend to max armor and dmg then tank enemies until there are no more attacks coming at me... the more times i play this way the better I get at it and the less likely I am to try a different strategy. With Random Number based combat with discrete decision points the nimbleness of my fingers has no bearing on my success. On one run I can be the tank knight who wacks things, on another run I can be the sneaky theif who backstabs stuff... I don't have to be good at sneaking around backstabbing things... only my character has to be good at it. Even so, those advantage can come with a turn based non random system... but I like the added randomness because I don't want to know that every goblin will deal exactly 7 dmg and I'll kill them in exactly two strikes... I want the occasional goblin to outlive his expected lifespan to thow a monkey wrench into my plan... or if i make a blunder a lucky crit lets me escape.

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To me, it all falls down to statistical distribution.

...

What you say makes sense, and does support what others (Frob in particular, I think) have said in this thread, I believe.

 

To some degree, however, I still feel that, for me at least, one of the main reasons that your suggestion would help is that it reduces the effect of the dice. It means that I'm going to miss every so often (which is fine), rather than on every third or fourth attack (which I find frustrating). To me, the former feels as though I'm largely in control, with a small extraneous force spicing things up; the latter feels as though I'm not in control, the dice are.

 

 

Having this sort of insight into actual risk management alleviates the feel of being "cheated by the dice" and an "unlucky streak".

Hmm... I'm not sure of what you're saying here. Are you arguing that knowing the model used (such as the 3d6 rolls that you described) makes it easier for the player to accept the results of the die-rolls, or are you saying that this technique, which reduces the appearance of extreme values, produces results that are more palatable?
 

I've never played Delver, but it claims it is a first person action rouge-like... which means to me that it it has procedure content, perma-death, and is particularly hard... the action part implies (to me) that it is not turn based... which means that in a fight or encounter my survival can boil down to my personal maximum actions per minute.

That's more or less accurate, although I don't think that it's that hard. The main source of difficulty that I have, I feel, is that I'm playing the Android version and am not wonderful with the controls, which use the touchscreen to emulate a two-stick gamepad.
 
(There's also a Macrogame in that gold collected carries over between characters, allowing one to sometimes start with better gear than the starting items.)
 

I don't want all my games to be a measure of how quickly I twitch my fingers.

I do feel that this oversimplifies the action a little: there's more to it than just tapping furiously. Specifically, there's avoiding enemy attacks, choosing the right tool for a given job (I tend to keep wands for use against one of the more dangerous ranged foes, for example), and good use of one's weapon (a single tap produces a quick, but presumably weak, hit, while holding the attack "button" charges a more powerful blow, but slows one down).
 
Nevertheless, I do see what you mean, I believe.
 

In games like this I tend to max armor and dmg then tank enemies until there are no more attacks coming at me...

My response here is an aside, but I tend to take a slightly different approach: a mixture of health and attack upgrades, allowing me to kill enemies more quickly while nevertheless absorbing some damage.
 

With Random Number based combat with discrete decision points the nimbleness of my fingers has no bearing on my success.
...
Even so, those advantage can come with a turn based non random system... but I like the added randomness because I don't want to know that every goblin will deal exactly 7 dmg and I'll kill them in exactly two strikes... I want the occasional goblin to outlive his expected lifespan to thow a monkey wrench into my plan... or if i make a blunder a lucky crit lets me escape.

Fair enough, I can understand that, I believe, even if I don't generally feel that way myself. happy.png
 

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There's also a principle that I think can be attributed to Michael Brough (it's there in ZAGA-33 and 868-HACK), that dungeon randomization should already be enough to guarantee variety.  You can have completely deterministic combat and still have every battle turn out differently, because they all start from different initial conditions.  (I think these two games still use randomness to determine enemy movement, but even this could be made deterministic.)  Hoplite is like this too, plus no random enemy movement if I recall.  So it's all just dungeon randomization + the player's input that determines the result of the game.

 

(I have a roguelike idea in my "idea folder" where it's *only* the player's input that matters.  The player starts in a large, mostly empty room, and the dungeon is progressively generated offscreen using the player's first N movements as input.)

 

But that's still "random" - I mean yes, strictly it's deterministic, but that's true of all the random number generators in the games being discussed, they're pseudo-random rather than random. Even if it's seeded from player movement, I would still call it random if I can't reasonably predict the outcome from the inputs.

Unless I'm misunderstanding what you're describing?

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To some degree, however, I still feel that, for me at least, one of the main reasons that your suggestion would help is that it reduces the effect of the dice. It means that I'm going to miss every so often (which is fine), rather than on every third or fourth attack (which I find frustrating). To me, the former feels as though I'm largely in control, with a small extraneous force spicing things up; the latter feels as though I'm not in control, the dice are.

 

That's obviously a balancing issue, but though, oftentimes, people find it easier to reduce the difficulty of the roll (making it possibly less likely to happen), I find that a normal distribution also reduces the risk of a bad streak. To me, a bad streak is something that really turns me off, and makes me hate a game I otherwise might have loved.

Worst yet, even if people test their game's RNG to death, they might not experience as bad a streak as a first-time user might because of sheer odds of that happening. It is still  a game breaker though.

A normal distribution can keep things hard, but not out of reach, whereas trying to reduce the difficulty of a single die might make it mundane and have the player wonder why there are dice at all.

 


Are you arguing that knowing the model used (such as the 3d6 rolls that you described) makes it easier for the player to accept the results of the die-rolls, or are you saying that this technique, which reduces the appearance of extreme values, produces results that are more palatable?

 

I would keep that information hidden (how the actual rolling works). I think the results speak for themselves for an average user and limit the risk of very bad outcomes.

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there's little apparent space for player skill in the game
Heh, play ADOM or Crawl and tell me there is a little skill needed :D

 

I think you simply tried the wrong games. The system definitely is skill based and it definitely works. Try most ASCII roguelikes, you will see it there. But I agree that the modern "casual" graphical "roguelikes" (actually, these are more like RPGs, not roguelikes) have it watered down too much.

 

Also don't forget savescumming, it completely changes the gameplay and risk assessment. The "I have a 10% chance I will instantly die if I do this" is an important part of roguelikes, it's not about luck, it's about skill (risk assessment and decision when to take it).

 

Note, if you "fix it" the game will be not casual anymore, and that's probably the core of the issue (devs don't find it attractive to fix it).

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That's obviously a balancing issue ...

I do think that I agree with you here.

 

(For the sake of clarity, I'll note here that with regards to this next quote I'm somewhat arguing Devil's Advocate.)

 

... I find that a normal distribution also reduces the risk of a bad streak. To me, a bad streak is something that really turns me off, and makes me hate a game I otherwise might have loved.

But if bad streaks reduce the fun of a game, would it not be better to remove that extraneous source of bad streaks altogether? After all, player mistakes and level randomisation can still cause runs of untoward outcomes.

 

(/Devil's Advocate.)

 

 

A normal distribution can keep things hard, but not out of reach, whereas trying to reduce the difficulty of a single die might make it mundane and have the player wonder why there are dice at all.

Hmm... I take it that a "hard" encounter would be one in which the player's probability of landing a hit is low; in that case, surely even a normal distribution will yield runs of misses?

 

That said, I do agree that a good distribution is likely to rather improve the results "rolled".

 

 

I think the results speak for themselves for an average user and limit the risk of very bad outcomes.

I infer then that you're saying that the reduction of bad streaks produces a more palatable result--is that correct? (I don't want to jump to that conclusion without checking, in order to reduce the risk that we're miscommunicating. I'm also somewhat under-slept, and so am not confident of my judgement.) If so, then I do think that I agree.

 

 

Heh, play ADOM or Crawl and tell me there is a little skill needed biggrin.png

I haven't played ADOM, I don't think. As to Crawl, do you mean this game? If so, then it looks like something different--if not (as I'm guessing is the case), could you clarify which game you mean, please?

 

 

Try most ASCII roguelikes, you will see it there.

Like, say, Rogue itself? That, as I recall, was where I first noted this issue. :P

 

 

But I agree that the modern "casual" graphical "roguelikes" (actually, these are more like RPGs, not roguelikes) have it watered down too much.

Hum... I'd like to be clear, to avoid misunderstanding: when you refer to "watering down", are you referring specifically to the combat-resolution mechanics? The mechanics in Pixel Dungeon seem pretty much the same as those in Rogue: you bump into an enemy (or press an on-screen button) to attack; the result of that attack is based on random numbers and character statistics. There's space for some tactical decision-making, such as retreating beyond a door, quaffing a potion or when and how to use resources like wands.

 

 

Also don't forget savescumming ...

Erm, I'm not sure of what you're saying here: are you suggesting that I'm save-scumming in games like Pixel Dungeon (I'm not), or are you recommending it (which seems unlikely, given the rest of your post)? o_0

 

 

Note, if you "fix it" the game will be not casual anymore, and that's probably the core of the issue (devs don't find it attractive to fix it).

I suspect that this depends somewhat on how you "fix" it. One could, for example, swap out random combat resolution for a simple, quick minigame (this specific change is off the top of my head, and so may not actually be a good idea) and end up with something that's still "casual", but which replaces highly-randomised combat resolution with player skill.

 

I'm not convinced that being a "casual" game is the problem; if there's a difference between such roguelikes and others, then I feel that it's more likely a design issue than a genre issue.

 

 

I think you simply tried the wrong games.

I would welcome recommendations! ^_^

 

However, if you do recommend anything, I do have a few restrictions on what I'm likely to enjoy. (I apologise if this makes the request onerous. :/) My restrictions (off the top of my head) are these:

 

  • I'm not looking for something into which to sink enormous amounts of time.
  • I don't really want anything with the sheer massive complexity of NetHack.
    • Rogue or Pixel Dungeon might be examples of the sort of complexity that I might look for.
  • As to OS, Android would be preferred, but Linux is also fine.
    • I do have Windows XP, so I could theoretically play Windows games, but I have a habit of forgetting about games installed there, with a few exceptions (such as Shadowgate).
  • I do like graphics--whether pixel or otherwise. ASCII games are not entirely unacceptable, but it might be harder to convince me to play them.
  • Ideally, I'd prefer a free game, but I might consider games up to, say US$2.
  • It's possible that I'll turn something down on a matter of personal taste, ethics or beliefs, etc.

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But if bad streaks reduce the fun of a game, would it not be better to remove that extraneous source of bad streaks altogether? After all, player mistakes and level randomisation can still cause runs of untoward outcomes.
 
(/Devil's Advocate.)

 

I think it's not good for the player to experience too much failure, but failure is one means to teach the player that failure is POSSIBLE.

Knowing the failure is POSSIBLE is what makes success that much more worthy.

Of course, if players believed the developer that failure is possible, but that failure was not possible, then players would ultimately enjoy the game much more, but in my experience, players have to face such failure at least once to truly value their successes.

 

Furthermore, failures insure the player has learned gameplay mechanics (generally speaking). As such, in super mario, you can't clear the first section until you've mastered the jump. Even if your miraculously/accidentally jump over the first enemy, you still need to jump over the first pipe. Failure to do so would result in time out or being hit by an enemy (failure).

 

In the context of a roguelike, a bad streak at rolling teaches the player that odds are still odds, and you can still wake up one day and lose a fight against an inferior opponent because the conditions were difficult. While you had a sword and armor, the wolf managed to kill you because x or y.

It is not desirable that such outcome occur often, but having the player go through one such failure would not be sufficient to have them complain that the game balance was off, and yet it would add value to their exploits (knowing danger lurks).

 


Hmm... I take it that a "hard" encounter would be one in which the player's probability of landing a hit is low; in that case, surely even a normal distribution will yield runs of misses?
 
That said, I do agree that a good distribution is likely to rather improve the results "rolled".

 

I would argue that a balanced encounter should have at least 75% hit (and hopefully more).

In an RNG system I had created for a prototype, I actually ended up cheating the odds. I kept scores on the last 50 or so hits, tallying the real hits vs misses ratio. If I would reach a point where this was going downhill, I would automatically connect a hit. Likewise, if the value went too high, I would automatically enforce a miss. This was an added layer that simply removed both undesirable scenarios: someone that hits or misses all the time.

 


I infer then that you're saying that the reduction of bad streaks produces a more palatable result--is that correct?

 

I think that what creates more palatable results isn't specifically the concept of bad or good streaks, but the actual breadth of the values being returned.

Let me explain with numbers.

 

Assume a D&D environment using a d20, rolling 10 times.

You might get these results:

2, 17, 10, 4, 16, 19, 4, 9, 20, 4

 

When looking at that distribution, the only logical conclusion is that they are all numbers between 1 and 20 (inclusively) without much coherence.

 

In a 3d6 environment, you're more likely to see:

(3-18)

9, 7, 11, 15, 12, 6, 10, ...

 

I'm exaggerating here obviously, and the range of 3d6 is marginally lower than 1d20, but it goes to examplify my thought pattern.

While these numbers may be hidden to the player, they will still form expectations. Assume that a 10 allows them to hit an armored soldier, and a 6 allows them to hit a wolf, whereas a 15 is required to hit a demon.

 

They'll come to think that they can reliably hit wolves, because 6 and less is very hard to roll on 3d6. 

The armored soldier will be a bit of a 50%/50% standing roughly at the center of the normal distribution. If it were only 1 point lower, it would get hit a lot more suddenly.

The demon would be almost impossible to hit, whereas in a d20 universe, it would still occur more often.

 

In essence, 3d6 diminishes the odds of something "crazy happening", and returns more "normal" numbers. There's a stats term for this, but I'm afraid I don't know the english word equivalent...

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