Winner Makes All: Mercury’s Roguelike Experiment

By Adam Smith on August 6th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Mercury is “an experimental winner-generated arcade roguelike”, which immediately made it sound more exciting than “a massively anti-aliased cover-based shooter set in a warehouse on the moon” when I read about it first thing this morning. It’s a free game in the early stages of development, which, because of its brilliant conceptual twist, makes it the perfect time for the good people of RPS to enter its dungeons. Mercury is “winner-generated” because after each cycle of play, the two players with the most points are allowed to make new content for the game. So what started as a single class, single enemy, single item dungeon crawl is becoming more complex and chaotic as time goes on. Try the beta now or read more below.

I hate snogs. I don’t know what snogs are, because they’re certainly not desperately drooly teenage kisses in this context, but I know that I hate them. Someone called Monty made them and they are the enemy that most consistently ends my point-plundering descent to victory. I do know that Monty made his creations vampiric, so they suck away my life and become stronger as they do so. Maybe they are tongue-twisting teenagers after all?

Thankfully, far kinder people have made a selection of weapons, including the Razorclaw that I always hope to find on the first or second level. In roguelike tradition, there are potions as well, although only the one type at the moment, in the form of a useful healing draught. There’s wine as well, which is a kind of potion I suppose, but that has some unpleasant side effects to go with its admirable ability to heal bleeding wounds. Just like in real life.

If you’re confused by how all of this works, I recommend the very handy description of how the game works written by the developer.

The ‘arcade’ part of the description is due to Mercury’s emphasis on high scores. There’s no ultimate objective, other than the absolutely awesome goal of winning access to the tools that allow you to recreate yourself as a monster in the game. If I ever manage to be at the top of a leaderboard, there’ll be a ‘journalist’ class, a ‘mighty pen’ weapon or an ‘angry physical manifestation of a severe hangover’ enemy. To earn enough points, I’d be wise to recognise the importance of boss monsters, which have an asterisk atop their symbol. Killing these increases the player’s points multiplier by one, so they should be your first target on each floor.

Going down a floor provides a health boost and also adds to the player’s turn pool. Because the game is turn-based, that’s basically like receiving extra time to delve deeper. Running out of turns can lead to a mad rush into each corner of a floor, searching for the way down, although killing some monsters will provide extra turns as well. Thanks to whoever created those blighters. At the moment it’s more Desktop Dungeons than Stone Soup, with calculation more important than character building. However, that could all change as things become more varied and there’s a chaos mode which seems to contain just about everything ever. I’ve only glanced at that.

Each level, or board as the game calls them, is only one screen in size and clearing it completely of monsters provides a huge bonus. The biggest problem with the scoring system at the moment is that the top of the leaderboard is dominated by people with several million points, which would take a great deal more devotion than I can muster. However, private servers may be arriving in the future, which would make the game instantly more compelling. Not only would there be more potential for each player to influence the future of their own version of Mercury, but it would be possible to gather like-minded souls and create themed dungeons.

There’s masses of potential here and I suggest we all jump on board and see if we can’t climb up the leaderboards together. First person to create Horace is a heretic.

Oh, and bleedzerkers? Nowhere near as awesome as they sound.

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27 Comments »

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  1. wavedash says:

    Downloading just for the art style.

  2. MistyMike says:

    User generated content? Expect a lot of ‘giant cock’ kind of monsters, then.

    • jikavak says:

      You’d expect people who manage to top the leaderboards of a turn-based roguelike would be a bit more mature than that.

      • MacTheGeek says:

        So… a lot of ‘average cock’ monsters driving about in flashy red cars, then?

  3. Kitsunin says:

    Sounds like yawns if it has to be a free for all, since obviously competing with more than ten or so people would mean you almost never, if not literally never, get to add anything yourself. Sounds way fun though if I can play it with a small group of friends, or internet people intending to create a themed dungeon (As said).

  4. Om says:

    “Mercury is “winner-generated” because after each cycle of play, the two players with the most points are allowed to make new content for the game”

    Ugh. Powergaming for powergamers, by powergamers

  5. Guvornator says:

    “a ‘mighty pen’ weapon” Just make sure it’s mightier than the swords. Yes, all of them…

  6. The Random One says:

    I saw it earlier on…well, here on RPS’s comments section, actually. I haven’t played it because I’m on a borrowed computer, but the concept is super neat.

    I don’t get all the grumbling. The fact that only winners get to make stuff means that there are no random LOLmonsters, just stuff that actually compliments the game as you have to actually understand the game to add it.

    Then again I might enjoy it more as a make-your-own-roguelike kit. Or, at least, they could follow the advice of the Frozen Synapse devs and award people on different accomplishments instead of an unified score – something like more monsters killed, more treasure accrued, deepest level, more tiles revealed, more effective genocide of a single kind of monster etc. That way the stakes are spread out and you can focus on just one and have a chance to excel only on that.

    • Kitsunin says:

      What I think is this: If only winners can add content to the game, and you are competing with hundreds of people, you will never, ever, get to add anything to it unless you are a no-lifer. If the game were exceptional, this would be okay, but as it is the only thing it has going for it is this player creation mechanic.

      Only winners being able to add to the game doesn’t do anything to ensure quality, as is evidenced by playing the game; out of the maybe 20 total current monster, items, and classes, there are only like three things added by players that are even THINGS. Okay, this is false, googling them, most of them are actually just really obscure terms or the names of fictional characters. It’s just pointless to play a roguelike that does nothing to set itself apart from other roguelikes aside from having this adding system, which actually DETRACTS from the game when it’s just random people doing it.

      I say this detracts from the game because it destroys the focus a well made game has, and while it could be very fun to see a lot of silly random things, as it is I’m just seeing words that looks like gibberish unless you’re in on whatever obscure thing the creator decided to name their creation after.

      Don’t get me wrong, I still think this could be loads of fun if only you could play it with smaller groups of people, people who actually are interested in making their creations fun to encounter.

      • Reapy says:

        Stumbled on this from the what are you playing thread earlier, saw on the site that the creator was working on private servers for just the reason you mentioned, so perhaps stay tuned.

  7. aliksy says:

    Neat idea, though I’d also fear I’d never be able to contribute anything if I’m competing with everyone else playing ever.

    Any idea how complex/powerful the tools are? Is it like, “Code the behavior in java” or more “friendly”?

    • pakoito says:

      It’s just a HP-MP-Attack-Name-Chooseiconfromlist type of deal.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Terics says:

    I’ve been playing this and its pretty cool. I read somewhere that winners also have the ability to remove something instead of adding. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Jackablade says:

    High score – 6.2 million.
    Your score – 190.

    It’s a neat idea, but as others have said, the unique features are only going to be utilised by a tiny few. Possibly a tiny few hackers judging by the vastness of those high scores.

    • Severian says:

      As I understand it from their forum, it’s not hacking so much as some advanced players discovering (and concernedly posting about) certain unstoppable combos (class + items) that make infinite points possible, except that the game crashes at some point. It is clear that this game is in a very early stage of development and the creator needs to put some deep thought into how to deal with OP items, monsters, and classes.

  10. MythArcana says:

    The presentation is nifty and I like the layout, but I couldn’t figure out how to heal at all…so you just click until you die then hit New Game, repeat. Coming from NetHack, ToME & Stone Soup, this is a bit too simplistic at present.

    • rusty5pork says:

      To heal, you need to use medkits, or take advantage of the Hashashin’s natural regen. The Squire gets a bonus to healing received from items, but really, there should be more drops in the beginning of the game, or the Squire should get Regen 1. He just seems really weak right now.

  11. Severian says:

    I tried this last night and really like the idea, but it’s at too early a stage of development to be enjoyable. Private servers will go a long way towards fixing this. I’d love to play on an RPS server with other thoughtful, creative gamers who come up with interesting classes, items, and monsters. And keep the player count fixed at some relatively low level so that there’s always a descent chance you’ll win a round on a particular day and get to make more content.

  12. lofaszjoska says:

    “massively anti-aliased” actually sounds pretty exciting to me, as it hints at a game that woudn’t run on today’s playboxes

  13. Captain Joyless says:

    It’s interesting that so many people are against “winner-made content.” Great illustration of a fundamental problem in gaming right, and in English-speaking culture generally at the moment: a deep-seated jealousy of success and hatred of victory.

    So many people saying “oh but I’ll never get to make any content if I don’t win.” Yes, that is exactly the point. Winning is a definitive way of demonstrating that you know something about the game. There might be a disconnect between whether or not good analysts (ie, winners) are good designers, but it’s better than just letting random people take turns adding content.

    If you think you should get to add content, prove your worth. Adding content to a game is serious. If you think yours is so amazing but you can’t manage to win a freaking video game to prove it, then just go make it yourself and try to convince people the old fashioned way.

    • aliksy says:

      You’re so wrongheaded it hurts me.

      “a deep-seated jealousy of success and hatred of victory.” sounds like some assheaded right wing talking point, and also happens to not be true. It’s not a jealousy of success and it’s certainly not a hatred of victory. I don’t care if other people succeed, but if a game has a neat feature I’d like to try it out. Otherwise why bother?

      Also “adding content to a game is serious” is false. It’s not serious. It’s a game. This isn’t rocket surgery. No one’s going to suffer if someone adds “Cockgobblers” as a monster.

      Ugh. Just ugh. I hope you’re a troll and not sincere.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Preeeeetty much.
        The thing is, and I guess I should buzz off and quit saying this: The game has nothing going for it other than this user-made content creation system. It’s a cool idea, but if you can’t actually access it then there’s no point playing this instead of another, properly themed and balanced, roguelike.

        I do actually like the idea of getting to add content as a prize for doing well, but it feels haphazard and boring when it’s not something within the reach of someone with a life. Seriously, I know those current scores are due to exploiting the game as it is now, but I have little doubt you will be forced to put many hours into the game to get even a shot at a high score in the future too. Even if it were achievable, what’s the point of getting to add something to some generic game, except to brag that you did so (Yawn)? It would be cool if you were competing with a small group of people, and you intended to keep a semi-consistent theme, such as being entirely silly, sci-fi, movie-themed, etc.

      • acheron says:

        You’re apparently kind of a moron politically (if you don’t think “jealousy of success” is the core of leftism, you’re not very observant), but you’re correct as far as the game goes.

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          *buzzer*

          Talking point expressed as incontrovertible fact, 15pt violation.

          Play on.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Intriguing idea, will have to give it a go.

  15. rusty5pork says:

    To the people that are getting 190 points and getting discouraged: Keep playing. Like most roguelikes, the more you play, the more you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. My current highscore is around 20000, and I always feel like I’m getting better. Here’s a few tips:

    1) Use the Hashashin. His regen is a bit on the broken side compared to the Squire.

    2) When you’re just starting out, preserving turns is more important than anything. While clearing the board is the main way you’ll be stacking up points later on, you want to build up a good buffer of turns to be able to do so. For the first 4-5 boards, kill the boss to stack up your multiplier, then get out.

    3) If you run into a Snorg (I think. If I got the name wrong, it’s the monster whose strength increases with turns,) and you’ve been on the level for more than 20 or so turns, RUN AWAY. Get to the next board. Getting the points isn’t worth dying, or running out of consumables.

    4) If you’re 1 away from your weight limit, carry around a bottle of wine. You can only really use 1 of these without crippling yourself on the Hashashin (and don’t even THINK about it as the Squire,) but it can save your life in a pinch.

  16. iucounu says:

    Hahaha

    Popped in to Chaos Mode, spotted a class called ‘drop tables’. Moused over it and the .exe crashed.

    Game, set and match, Little Bobby Tables’ Mom.