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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessHow to Make a Roguelike Popular
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Kornel Kisielewicz
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« on: February 20, 2007, 05:33:24 AM »



Okay, here goes...

There are three elements in case of making a Roguelike popular:

  • The Game
  • The Community
  • Advertising

The Game
  • Toy or Game -- Decide. Either you make a game, or a toy. If the latter, then don't count on people playing it. If the former, don't fall into the trap of ever escalating design. Start small, build a PLAYABLE DAMMIT game, and then add features. Face it -- you won't make the next JADE unless you have a ADOM-sized community cheering you.
  • Goal -- You have to give the players a strong sense of reason to play. There's nothing as bad in a new roguelike than having a goal like "Errr, there's a amulet on the bottom of the dungeon, and you need to find it and bring it back..." which leads us to...
  • Strong Theme -- ... the next thing : Uniqueness. There's nothing as bad as yet another dungeon hack. Why? Because we have plenty of those already. To make a traditional dungeon hack popular, you'd have to give it a complexity comparable to ADOM/NetHack, or else the people will always favor the Old Ones. The solution is to find a theme that IS IMMIDATELY APPARENT, and stick to it. At every moment of the game, the player should feel the theme. And the more non-traditional theme the better. Take a look at the rgr.development and see how much brainless Yet-Another-Dungeon-Crawl's people are writing Sad.
  • Streamlined Interface -- The interface of the game needs to be self explanatory and simple. While this may go against "tradition" (of those 3-4 pages keybinding classics) in a new roguelike you either have to mimic a established interface exactly, or make yours streamlined. Why? Because if not: The hardcore players will play for a while and decide that they don't want to waste time learning the interface they'd rather play a game of Crawl/NetHack/ADOM/Whatever, the new players will say OMFG! so many keyz??
  • Quick Immersion -- You should put the player in immediate action, or at least in a immidiate interesting situation. Face it, the average player of your game will give it 5 minutes and the ditch it. If you don't grab him by the throat during those 5 minutes, you've failed.
  • Don't Use Free Graphics -- If you wan't graphics, do them yourself, or find someone to do them for you. There's nothing as bad for the average rogueliker than yet another AdamBolt/DavidGeriavis tiles based game. They all look the same, like "Japanese cRPGs to the uninitiated".
  • Unfinished but Polished -- Sure your roguelike is as yet unfinished (as all of them are) but that doesn't mean it should be unpolished. In the public releases remove all debug data, remember to add things like help screens, cool intro screens. The player will treat the game as it looks. If it looks messy, he won't give it much respect.
  • Avoid the Friut Salad -- this one's aimed mainly at ASCII games, but I guess that it could be applied to other games as well. Sure you've got 16 foreground colors and 8 background colors. But that doesn't mean you should use them all! I've seen too many roguelikes that look like a friut salad or Vegas' Casino :/. It's good to pick up a few (3-4) primary colors for the interface and general coloristic of the game and STICK TO THEM. And... AVOID background colors except for very special cases!
  • What's in a name? -- pick a good name, or tagline. IMHO "Dungeons of XYZ" or "Amulet of ABC" where XYZ/ABC seem to be generated by a random generator don't work anymore. The name/tagline should excite, shock, sparkle interest.
  • Randomness FTW! -- I left the most important aspect for the end... MAKE IT RANDOM! This is the soul of roguelikes, and the reason people still play them today. Don't forget about it. The greatest weapon you have against Box Office titles is randomness. Make each game as different from the others as possible, and as long as it's within resonabilities and gameplayness limit.

The Community
  • Core -- you need to establish a core group of people to cheer you up, to believe in your success. Take care of them, for they are the base of your motivation. Talk about your game often. Then show that you're making progress. Don't keep the changes secret from your core, let them have the beta's as regulary as possible.
  • Bulding -- You'll also need more people to help you propagate the game and give you ideas. Set up a forum. Write some interesting stuff on it. At first remember to answer EVERY post on the forum, cause no one will do it for you. After some time you won't have to, as long as there's something to talk about that it ;].
  • Keep Interest -- if you leave it to it's own matters the community will scatter and fade away. Keep it's interest. Show that you're taking what they say seriously. Fix reported bugs, implement requested features. If some minor enhancements go against your vision of the game (but don't break the balance) consider making them optional and turned of by default. Love your players Smiley.
  • Mortems! -- people underestimate how big of an impact have character sheets/death files on a roguelike community. They are absolutely a must! They provide people with something to talk about/discuss/brag about, they keep the community alive even if there's no new version currently.
  • Listen -- listen to your community. Fix the bugs reported ASAP, Consider every feature, and if you don't want it implemented, tell them why.
  • Be a Peer not Pizarro -- be one of them, do not try to play the White God From the Continent (Pizarro did that, and look what he ended like xD). Respect and love your community, for you'll need them most if your motivation runs out (and it will from time to time). Even when you go up, don't forget the people who helped you on the way.

Advertising
  • Roguelike core -- In case of roguelike you need to advertise the game only in two places - the rgr.announce newsgroup (with possibly a crosspost to misc/development) and Roguebasin. Leave the rest to the people. If the game is good it will spread. If not... well, you can always go to a pub and get drunk ^^. In the announcements be sure to place in the first place the most important and unique features of your game.
  • Selfadvertisement -- don't. Don't go around a ton of sites saying "I did this! You play it!". Leave it to the people. If you're angry that it's too slow, then give a hint to people in your community. The author is always the worst believeable person to advertise his own game Smiley.

Duh... this post got a little out of hand... I guess I could write it on and on, but you might fall asleep Tongue... Guys? Guys? Is anyone listening? Hey, where are they???

P.S. Sorry for my bad english, I'm not native ^^
P.S.2. The post was written in the spur of the moment, without any planning, so it's a little chaotic xD
« Last Edit: February 20, 2007, 02:12:26 PM by Derek » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2007, 02:09:11 PM »

I split this topic off from the "How to market an indie game" thread HERE.  Great post, Kornel!

Added a screenshot from DoomRL and also added a link to Roguebasin.
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2007, 02:20:20 PM »

I agree, great post Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2007, 03:12:56 PM »

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2007/02/_play_tips_for_travel_in_gridl.php

Some tips for pwning rouglikes (and some interesting design observations).
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Kornel Kisielewicz
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2007, 04:08:16 PM »

Thank you for your kind words Smiley. I could write some more, also on other topics, but I don't know how much my non-indie (I'm a freeware and roguelikecentric developer currently after-all) knowledge might be usefull to the indie community, and which parts of it would be o.O
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2007, 04:22:40 PM »

First off, I think freeware most definitely falls under the definition of "indie."  Second of all, I think whatever knowledge you could provide would be invaluable to the community.  The worst thing would be for this place to become too insular.  We need to make sure that we're never limiting topics to what we only think is important to independent game development.

I would definitely welcome commercial developers to post here, as well, for instance!  Or even people who are not in the game industry but are artists, programmers, etc. Grin
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2007, 05:42:40 PM »

First off, I think freeware most definitely falls under the definition of "indie." 

I agree.  If you're doing it b/c you Love it that's pure "indie".

I've read this wisdom at least 3 times just b/c it's so straight forward, to the point, and very practical.  Key points, insightful, no fluff, all great stuff.  The self-advertisement section, for example.  Some people would do the exact opposite.  You don't get this type of simplified breakdown too often.

More wisdom would absolutely be read.   
Hey why not Write a book.  I'd buy it! Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2007, 01:27:52 AM »

You would be surprised at the shear number of roguelikes that there are out there and continual being developed. Sadly, the vast majority of them go unnoticed because they are just another dungeon hack game with traditional RPG features and settings.

Games like DoomRL and Dwarf Fortress show just what is needed to have a half decent RL these days.
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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2007, 03:14:58 AM »

you won't make the next JADE unless you have a ADOM-sized community cheering you.

And even then... Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2007, 03:17:47 AM »

Great post btw, v. useful for me as I'm planning to do a RL platformer soon. Cheers! You're spot-on about the procedural content, it's the beating heart of a RL.
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Kornel Kisielewicz
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2007, 07:46:38 AM »

Hey why not Write a book.  I'd buy it! Smiley
Maybe some day xD.

You would be surprised at the shear number of roguelikes that there are out there and continual being developed. Sadly, the vast majority of them go unnoticed because they are just another dungeon hack game with traditional RPG features and settings.
Well, being a regular on rgr.development and an admin ad RogueBasin, I think that I know about most of them. There's a lot of potential in the community, too bad that most of the people do one or the other mistake -- mostly the lack of theme, or doing toys not games Sad.

Great post btw, v. useful for me as I'm planning to do a RL platformer soon. Cheers! You're spot-on about the procedural content, it's the beating heart of a RL.
Procedural content is something that I'm absolutely in love with (my all-time favorite game is Frontier). I might write articles on that, the first one being why procedural content is good, and general guidelines to effective implementation of it (not roguelike specific).

I plan to move on to non-roguelike games, but the two most important (IMHO) roguelike paradigms will stay with me forever, those being Randomness and Permafailure. Plans for creating a graphical Elite/Wierd Worlds style game with procedural content are already on their way ;].
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2007, 07:53:00 AM »

Procedural content is something that I'm absolutely in love with (my all-time favorite game is Frontier). I might write articles on that, the first one being why procedural content is good, and general guidelines to effective implementation of it (not roguelike specific).

Oh man, I'd love to see that!  Post it here whenever you get to writing it, OK?  Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2007, 08:33:52 AM »

Play Flatspace in the meantime. It's OK
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2007, 08:44:38 AM »

I'd love to see some more procedural content articles, considering I'm making an Elitelike at the moment (albeit with pregenerated universes).

I hadn't known of RogueBasin previously, but now I'm reading it religiously.
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2007, 09:39:41 AM »

Roguebasin is nice, but its main idea is to serve as a repository of general roguelike knowledge, it is not focused on development (Yes, I am an admin there Tongue)

But you may find much more information by browsearching the ancient archives of r.g.r.d., specially regarding this often discussed topic Tongue

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.games.roguelike.development
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Kornel Kisielewicz
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2007, 04:10:25 PM »

Yeah, Flatspace is also one of the inspirations, as is Transcendence.

As for the procedural content, it's the thing that really turns me on. From procedural dungeons, to planets, star systems, and in the other field also towns, characters, newspapers and ... yeah, procedural plot Smiley. I will try to find some time to tackle most of those subjects.
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« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2007, 07:21:10 AM »

Been thinking a bit about the "Randomness FTW" part, and I noticed you don't write about replayability (or replay value, whatever sounds nicer there Tongue) in the article?

After all, I think randomness must be done to the point of allowing replayability (that is the real core of the roguelikes), if this point is exceeded, the game becomes illogical and hard to follow, and if this point is not reached, the game loses all its roguelikeness Wink

What do you think?
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« Reply #17 on: February 28, 2007, 07:32:22 AM »

I recently tried a super mario bros that was procedurally generated, and it got old pretty fast. So IMO one can't rely on it too much!
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« Reply #18 on: February 28, 2007, 08:07:12 AM »

I like tight spaces in Roguelikes.  Well, generally for games, but especially for Roguelikes.  One of the reasons Prom's platform designs appealed to me so much was how compact and varied everything was.

Hence, I like small dungeons with lots of little corridors.  I don't like crossing large, empty spaces in Roguelikes at all!

My dream Roguelike would have very simple controls and simple rules, but lots of different items, enemies, and ways for those items and enemies to interact with the player and the environment.  I want it to be very fast-paced and I want to be able to cause enormous change in the game environment without needing 50 spoiler.txt's around me!
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« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2007, 08:07:39 AM »

I think procedural content has its place, but it can never replace the feeling of an awesomely designed level which has had thought and planning put into it. Smiley
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