The Games Of Christmas ’11: Day 20

By RPS on December 20th, 2011 at 1:53 pm.

The 20th day of Advent is of course traditionally marked by tying a t-shirt around your head and screaming in the face of a stranger’s baby. But ever flying in the face of society’s mores, RPS instead simply peels back a door on the festive calendar to reveal another game that’s made our 2011 lovely. By Great Yarmouth’s testes, what could today’s be?

It’s… Dungeons Of Dredmor!

John: I’m often late to the party. This is usually because I’m faffing around, checking my email, finding a thing I need to post on RPS, or refusing to stop playing Skyrim. But I’m also one who can avoid a game that everyone’s raving about, because it usually means it’s some sort of Rogue-like that I’ll never fathom, or tiresome space shopping. It’s for this reason that I missed out on precious months I could have spent with Minecraft, weeks with Terraria, and I almost missed Dungeons Of Dredmor altogether. Not least because it’s some sort of Rogue-like. Although clearly in the most player-friendly, un-Rogue-like way imaginable.

I do tend to bounce off the idea of a game that’s about seeing how far you can get before an inevitable death bounces you back to the very start. That’s what arcade games are for, with high score charts. I want progress, I want inferred narrative. I don’t want… oh shut up John, you wrong-faced idiot. Because blimey, it turns out I don’t want those things all the time after all, because what I do want is to be playing Dredmor all the time instead of doing anything else.

That doesn’t stop me from investing every time. I can’t help it. And I’m fairly sure my experience is richer for it. It’s agony when I die. It’s super-double-mega agony when it’s because the bloody close door mechanic is so horribly programmed. Each time I think, “This will be the one!” The one to do what I have no idea. I’ve never made it past the fourth floor (because I’m pathologically incapable of using down-stairs until I’ve explored every inch of the floor I’m on) so it could all be kittens below there for all I know.

I’ve never even touched the crafting, because really that would slow things down. I really love the simplicity of this, the ludicrous desire for progress, and the constant heartbreak of failure. Because next time, next time I’ll make it! It’ll be the one! I’ll get to… I don’t know? The bottom? Is there a bottom? I’m never likely to reach one, such is my obsessive need to make progress as difficult as possible. And yet I will keep playing. Until the day I die. Or they release a sequel.

Alec: RPS comrade Dan Griliopoulos came to visit me in Brighton a few months back. Such grand plans we had for drinking and merriment and moaning about the state of humanity! Instead, we stayed in, clustered around my laptop andplayed a slapdash Knightmare with Dungeons of Dredmor. One of us controlling, the other watching and proffering the finest advice he could conjure. I, of course, was reckless and doomed. He, however, built an able and, soon, rich hero whose amazing survival lasted until a wee small hour, eventually requiring that the game was saved and left until the morrow. Alas, I took it upon myself to continue the game and the character the next day. The hero was dead within 10 minutes. Gril was not best pleased.

That is Dredmor: forever encouraging a false sense of security then bringing despair upon you in an instant. Nothing new in that, not in terms of roguelikes, but it twins its cold cruelty with a tone that suggests it’s definitely going to give you a break. All those silly-named skill trees sound like they’re there for a laugh. They’re not. They’re there to be studied, understood, mastered, chosen carefully and then unleashed cooly upon the Diggles and their dungeon chums.

So I will never be truly good at Dungeons of Dredmor, because I am forever convinced the game likes me. It doesn’t. It hates me. It wants me to die. It wants to laugh at my stupidity. Which is, of course, why I can’t help but go back to it: this time I’ll be on top form, and this time it’ll be in a good mood, and the fun we’ll both have.

Oh, another gas trap. Clumsy old me. Here we go again. It’s the approachable face of roguelikes, but nonetheless it has no truck with idiots.

Adam: John has already summed up a lot of what I love about Dungeons of Dredmor so much simply by accepting and revelling in its challenge. It’s a roguelike that even he can enjoy and that in itself is cause for cheer. That it manages to appeal to people who have previously fled screaming from the sometimes punishing nature of the genre is no small achievement and the graphics are at least partly responsible for that. It’s not about the quality of the visual design, but rather the fact that it doesn’t require an eye familiar with decoding particular symbols and words, or the patience to sift through tilesets.

Gaslamp have obliterated many of the barriers to entry, with those giant eyebrows and tiny diggles, as well as a user interface that while far from perfect, is accessible at the very least. In doing so, they could have alienated those who like their roguelikes complex, tough and packed with content. That’s not the case.

Dredmor is another roguelike. It’s not an attempt to make a replacement for those that exist or an entity apart from the rest. It certainly hasn’t been stripped of features, with entire systems that it’s easy to ignore on any given playthrough. If anything, I’d argue that it suffers from having too much in certain regards, having spent far too long crafting things for soon-to-be-dead characters.

The sheer amount of things to do and be leads to a lack of balance, but I’ve never gone into a roguelike looking for an egalitarian adventure. Sometimes it’s fun to roll up a random character and see how doomed it’s possible to be. Very is the answer. Very doomed.

It’s not my most played roguelike of the year but it’s as worthy a member of the tribe as any other. Take away the graphics and you still have something with its own unique style – it’s the silly one with lots of odd skills, only a few types of monster, a crafting system, constant attempts of humour and relatively few dungeon levels.

I haven’t even had a chance to try the Realm of the Diggle Gods content yet. Alec just reminded me that it exists and that I have it, but I’m too afraid to click ‘play’ because that’d be me done for the day. That probably sums up Dredmor better than anything else I’ve said. Like The Binding of Isaac, it can seem like the perfect game to indulge in during a short break from work. But I’ve had to ban myself from loading either of them when I don’t have an entire evening or weekend ahead of me.

Now that he’s on the slippery slope, I am determined to convince John that a great roguelike can be a wonderful story-machine. I’m giving him Brogue for Christmas.

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72 Comments »

  1. Flint says:

    Yep, really deserves to be here. Been recently re-addicted to this and it’s definitely one of my favourite game purchases of the year. I adore the humour which seems to be a bit of a divisive thing, and underneath all the silliness is a rock solid game with so many little sides to it that I’m still finding things I’ve never really thought of before. And at the end of the day, it’s just a plain and simple fun game.

    I’ve got a pretty great character going on at the moment, I’ve ventured fairly deep into the dungeon. I’ve probably jinxed him now and will most likely die to some brainfarty stupid error the next time I run the game. I don’t care – dying might sting but restarting the journey is always a joy.

    • qrter says:

      Dredmor might be my game of the year.

      It’s a game that regularly makes me laugh! I want to give it a huge big hug, just for that.

    • frenchy2k1 says:

      Answering the top comment just to signal to those that want the game that it is on sale for a ridiculously low price on Steam today:
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/98800/

    • Buttless Boy says:

      $1.25 for this is a steal. For those of you paying a different number of moneys, that’s equivalent to about £0, rounded down.

  2. Xocrates says:

    Soo… Does this mean you actually forgot about Spacechem when compilling the list? Or just that something along the lines of Bastion or Frozen Synapse will be left out?

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I see you shiver with antici … PATION!

    • Auspex says:

      It might just be that (as I recall) it was Quinns who was all excited about Spacechem and he is only allowed to write about games he is told to write about these days.

      Or it might be game of the year!

      Frozen Synapse feels like a 2010 game to me because I played so much more of the Beta than the full release. Also wasn’t Kieron the one who really loved it? I think he colours in for a living now or something.

    • 4026 says:

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear by this stage (given this) that SpaceChem was forgotten. I wouldn’t worry about Bastion, though. That’s clearly got a slot: #24.

    • JFS says:

      I don’t know. Bastion was good, but I’d hardly put it at #24-game-of-the-games-of-christmas.

    • 4026 says:

      @JFS: Agreed. (Broadly). But remember:

      1) This is RPS, the website whose previous GOTYs include World of Goo and Minecraft. They heart them some indies.

      2) RPS super-heart Bastion and want all of its babies forever.

      3) Skyrim’s menus.

    • Xocrates says:

      Yeah, Bastion was good, but personally I think that among the remaining games it’s one of the more likely not to show up.

    • Vorrin says:

      if Spacechem or Bastion are left out in favour of the likes of Rage, and Lego bloody starwars (and well, imho, human revolution too, which I found very meh) RPS risks finding itself one reader short in the new year :)

    • Stijn says:

      Vorrin: So to you the definitive criterion on which to decide whether to read stuff or not is not whether it’s well-written, but the favourites of its writer?

    • Tams80 says:

      Does it really matter that Spacechem may not be on the list? Can’t you just enjoy reading about the games that are on it rather than moan about how game x should be on the list? I’m sure I’m not alone in being slightly annoyed to start reading the comments and the second one is already effectively a complaint.

      As for “Oh, Bastion will clearly be #24″: can’t you list wait and see.

      Then again I’m the sort of person who is getting annoyed by these ‘what I think will be on the list’ comments. I feel it kind of defeats the point of this advent calender; to talk about a different game that the Hivemind liked this year each day.

  3. MasterBoo says:

    Oh wow, this choice complicates things. Skyrim, Bastion, SpaceChem, Frozen Synapse, Human Revolution, Trine 2 and Magicka. 7 games, 4 days to go.

    • 4026 says:

      You know, it’s probably bad that these comment threads are increasingly about the games that haven’t been posted about, rather than those that have. Still, it’s fun, though.

      My prediction: it’ll be Magicka, Deus Ex, Skyrim, Bastion. In that (“no particular”) order. Deffo Bastion for #24, though.

    • Meat Circus says:

      There will definitely be some indie-rage if mediocre gash like Dead Island and Rage stops stuff like Frozen Synapse and SpaceChem from placing.

      In truth, that comment from the other day does seem to imply they forgot about SpaceChem (the horror), Magicka won’t place for being way too buggy on release, and Trine 2 was released after the list was compiled.

      So, final 4: Frozen Synapse, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Skyrim and Bastion.

      I reckon, IN THAT ORDER.

    • Hodge says:

      I had Dredmor in my prediction list earlier on, but I dropped it when we started running out of slots. Oops.

      Only four to go now. Skyrim and Bastion are dead certain to be in there, and I’m still tipping Skyrim for the big one.

      As others have said Space Chem and Frozen Synapse might be excluded for straddling the 2010/2011 divide and Trine 2 might have come too late. Magicka too buggy? Maybe they just didn’t get into it. None of them ever wrote much about it.

      Definitely: Skyrim, Bastion
      Maybe: Frozen Synapse, SpaceChem, Trine 2, Magicka, Human Revolution
      The Great Escape: The Stanley Parable, Gemini Rue, Rock Of Ages, Limbo

    • CMaster says:

      Human Revolution will be the GotY, Skyrim not until day 23 to keep us guessing.

    • Chris D says:

      I think Skyrim, Bastion and Deus Ex are pretty certain so only one more slot up for grabs. I suspect SpaceChem has been overlooked (TRAVESTY!). Frozen Synapse may not make it as while it may have been officially released this year the long beta access means that it feels like a 2010 game.

      Trine 2 hasn’t had time to make an impact. Some may feel that December releases are unfairly penalized by the process but I have made my peace with it. It’s the price of pandering to the fickle Christmas masses rather than the ones who are there for them the whole year round. Where were you in August when we had nothing!

      Ahem. Where was I? While I liked Rock of Ages I seem to recall it got a fairly lukewarm reception elsewhere. Limbo also feels 2010 and if I remember not everyone was a fan. As we have two adventures already I’d be surprised to see another one given the competition.

      So that leaves Magicka. Apologies to anyone who’s read this far only to discover I’ve said exactly the same as 4026. It was buggy but I think it was also original enough to still deserve a place.

    • TheApologist says:

      I’d be really surprised if Skyrim wasn’t at 24, given the coverage.

      And yeah, Frozen Synapse for the spots not taken by Deus Ex and Bastion, I reckon.

    • 4026 says:

      Ordinarily, yes, a new Elder Scrolls game would be a shoo-in, but menus.

    • Oozo says:

      Sometimes I picture the fearless four watching our puny mortal guess-work, divinly amused, and all too ready to adapt their born-from-eternal-wisdom list on the fly, just to make us despair, and guess a little harder.

    • 4026 says:

      …And now they’re making DNF the GOTY just to fuck with us.

    • Wulf says:

      I believe that the list of 24 is ‘in no particular order,’ and if that is the case, then people seem to be having trouble with that concept. >_>

    • Xocrates says:

      @wulf: except for the 24th which is the hivemind’s GOTY

    • Starky says:

      1-23 are in no order, game 24 is the RPS game of the year.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Frozen Synapse = MEH, clearly not worthy.

  4. Faldrath says:

    Adam: you can be a werediggle. Go click “play” now ;)

    (love Dredmor, I’m very glad it made the list, and I really hope we can avoid the “it’s a roguelike for dummies” discussion)

  5. gganate says:

    Skyrim and Human Revolution for sure, doubt if Magicka will make it. Bastion probably will.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Magicka is great in my opinion, but it’s very rough, has bugs, crashes. So it’s possible it doesn’t make it.

  6. Vinraith says:

    Anyone else getting a “script-inf” malware warning from the forums? Avast is displeased.

  7. AmateurScience says:

    Thou hath a terrible disease.

  8. Lambchops says:

    I am planning on revisiting Dredmor now that there’s an option which reduces dungeon size, hopefully this alleviates the issue that stopped me playing the game namely grinding through the first two levels becoming a chore instead of enjoyable.

    The presentation is excellent and I had good fun with it and hopefully it will sustain that second time around.

    • qrter says:

      Yes, that option speeds things up nicely, also without things going too quick.

    • jamesgecko says:

      What would also speed things up a lot is if there were more than like three keyboard shortcuts. WASD movement, top 10 item hotkeys, spell hotkeys. Click and drag for almost absolutely everything else.

      User friendlyness and keyboard shortcuts aren’t mutually exclusive. :( Tell you, what Gaslamp. I’ll give you a truce. You put shortcuts for scrolling in the crafting interface in, and I’ll shut up.

    • LordBilisknir says:

      jamesgecko:
      I’ve been using WASD movement forever, spell shortkeys,…. yeah got those. And the change to the crafting window with the latest patch is awesome!

  9. Meat Circus says:

    Oh my yes.

  10. Unaco says:

    I agree with this choice. I have nothing remarkable to add.

  11. mondomau says:

    For the love of all that is holy, will you please shut up about space chem.

    On topic, I heartily agree with this game’s inclusion. I lost hours and hours to cautious dungeon crawling and food hoarding. Finally beat Dredmor himself with the squid and nuke combo – bit of a cheat that, though considering the ridiculous melee damage he puts out, I’m not sure if there is any other way.

    • 4026 says:

      “shut up about space chem”

      Never!

      Man, SpaceChem is the best. Let me tell you how great SpaceChem is. Do you know what the best thing about SpaceChem is? The puzzles. SpaceChem has the best puzzles. Also the music! That’s also the best thing about SpaceChem.

      Do know what the worst thing about SpaceChem is? It’s that RPS didn’t include it in their sodding advent calendar because they’re all stupid-heads and I hate them.

  12. MuscleHorse says:

    I totally agree with the idea that these comments should be about the game in question and not those that haven’t been included – though I am wondering whether Atom Zombie Smasher was released this year. Along with Dredmore it’s been my favourite indie release.

    Must play more Dredmore now, tahrah!

    • 4026 says:

      AZS was indeed released this year. In January, in fact.

      In that respect, it’s much like SpaceChem NO I WILL NOT SHUT UP.

      I’m beginning to think that the RPS staff are simply conscientious objectors to the existence of the month of January. Maybe Horace ate the first page of their calendars.

    • Chris D says:

      I knew there was a game I was forgetting about that totally deserves a place.

    • drewski says:

      Maybe RPS just bounced off AZS like I did.

  13. Bluerps says:

    Killing Dredmor isn’t that hard.
    … unless you play on the highest difficulty. Then, the game is a continuous nightmare – for the five seconds it takes you to die.

  14. deadly.by.design says:

    Dredmor stole about 3 weeks of my spare time. After that, the inevitable heartbreak became too much.

  15. Hodge says:

    For me this one falls into the (bulging) category of “bought early on and installed but never played”. I’ve been slightly put off by what I’ve heard about the game being needlessly slow, which is the sort of thing which would irk me if it’s true, so it keeps getting bumped down my list.

    If I get all present-wrapping done early I might give it a quick go tonight.

    • Flint says:

      I personally wouldn’t say it’s needlessly slow at all, but in any case the most recent patch added the option to play the game with smaller dungeon floors (with adjusted experience flow) to alleviate that possibility.

    • Faldrath says:

      It can get slow when you get to that stage of constant inventory management, and/or depending on how many crafting skills you have.

      It would be nice to have a Torchlight-like way to quickly sell excess loot, but the lutefisk cube mitigates it somewhat.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Shift-clicking on everything you don’t want in your inventory to quick-sell them while in a store does a good job at getting rid of stuff fast.

  16. daphne says:

    Good call on this one! But the rest better be SpaceChem (Frozen Synapse if Spacechem = 2010), DX:HR, Bastion, and Skyrim, in that order. Basterds!

  17. Vander says:

    Dont agree on this one. Perhaps because i like Roguelike in general, and that the ASCI style of graphics dont bother me.

    Except for graphics, and to a less extent the UI, he doesnt do anithing that was not done better before.

    “In doing so, they could have alienated those who like their roguelikes complex, tough and packed with content. That’s not the case.”

    Not true for me, sir. Well, alienated is perhaps a little strong, but i sure feel like my money was wasted, even with the small price asked.

  18. Navagon says:

    *looks at ever-mounting pile of games*

    Oh look! I’ve got this one! Another one to bump up the ‘really should play this soonish’ list.

  19. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Going deeper underground..

    Yeah, I like Dredmor quite a bit. My first roguelike. Also, it’s a game you can pick up and play and come back to much later.

  20. Gusj says:

    Coincidence! This game is on sale on Steam right now for only €0.99!

    • JFS says:

      For 1,11 € here in Germany (plus 0,79 € for the DLC), which in sum is cheaper than a Bratwurst.

    • alexheretic says:

      Eighty Six UK pees!
      That’s pretty hard to refuse if I’d merely heard it’s name on the wind. This one is going to make a shit load of 86ps.

  21. drewski says:

    I really enjoyed it up until the point where the interface bugged me to the point I couldn’t be bothered any more. If the game were easier maybe the interface wouldn’t be so annoying, and if the interface were better, maybe the difficulty wouldn’t be as brutal, but combine the two, and you have Recipe for Frustration.

    I still bought the DLC in the Steam sale, however, as a friend gifted me a copy originally and I felt guilty about not contributing to the development of what is, despite everything, the most accessible Rogue-like I’ve encountered.

    At Steam sale prices, you are basically mutilating your own genitalia by not trying it. It’s a freaking dollar. A FREAKING DOLLAR

  22. Griddle Octopus says:

    I will never forgive Alec for killing my super-duper ninja archer type. He one-shotted most of a Monster Zoo with a Nuclear arrow! Then MEER. MEEER. :(

    • Faldrath says:

      Hey, at least you have someone *else* to blame for the inevitable stupid death. I always have to blame myself for mine :(

  23. Inglourious Badger says:

    Wonderful. The idea of a rogue-like, permadeath, fantasy-RPG, ‘silly’ humoured, incredibly long and difficult game had turned me right off, but this article, my growing love of the rogue-like-like-ness of Binding of Isaac and the steam sale convinced me to give it a go. Only played half an hour and it is….difficult but addictive. I died in the tutorial which didn’t bode well, and then again 20 mins into my first game after stepping into a ‘mysterious portal’ and fighting the first thing I saw there. But I must play more! And despite my fears I am so far loving the humour, and the excellent use of steam achievements (both dying in the tutorial and the game crashing on me earned some).

  24. InternetBatman says:

    I really like this game. Really like it, but melee builds seem pretty underpowered in the final floors. Also, I’d like the items to get better and better. I ran into problems with my melee character hitting an item ceiling around floor 4 that made him godlike for a while and then eventually he was horribly underpowered as enemies got tougher.

  25. Cheese says:

    I was a bit unsure about paying for a roguelike, and I found buying this, like a friend said, basically seemed to be paying for a tileset. I didn’t find it quite as fun as ADOM or Nethack, but the references and jokes were funny, it had some quirky features and I suppose it’s good for accessibility and those who shy from the idea of roguelikes.