DevLog Watch: XenoRaptor, Citybound, Dwarf Fortress

By Graham Smith on April 7th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

How colourful videogames are. Even ASCII.

It’s Monday and, if you have the same system shocked headache as I do, you might find it comforting to peruse a selection of in-development games. There are videos, there are GIFs (but only one!), there are fine anecdotes. There are promises of a brighter future somewhere on the horizon. It’s videogaming ibuprofen.

Cyberdragons! Colour blindness! Dwarven rumours!

XenoRaptor

“In XenoRaptor, you play as a cyberdragon fighting against armies of rocket propelled chainsaws, bulldozer tanks and other demonic warmachines. The game is designed to be fast paced, responsive and challenging.” Alright, sure. It’s a top-down shmup.

“You can build an enormous amount of distinct weapons by combining components dropped by bosses, making anything from an antimatter chaingun to a weapon which teleports attack bears into the cockpit of enemy ships.” Oh, that sounds interesting.

I read a lot of websites for indie games and you would be amazed at how many of them fail to describe their game in any meaningful terms. DevLogs are different, as they seem to focus designers on the meat of the mechanics of what they’re making. The first paragraphs about XenoRaptor on its TIGSource thread do a wonderful job of explaining what’s interesting about the game: the variety of its enemies, the manner in which you can manipulate its AI, and that it has singleplayer as well as 8-player coop.

There’s even a demo build. A demo! Most finished games don’t have demos.

In the later pages of the thread, its developer Peter “DarthBenedict” Cleary responds to feedback and explains the decisions he’s making as he goes along. And yes, there’s a lot more GIFs.

Citybound

Nathan already covered Citybound when it first took Reddit by storm with the suggestion it might offer what the latest SimCity didn’t. Things like large cities and an offline mode at launch, for example.

Since then its one-man developer has continued to work on the project and, for my purposes just as important, continued to write weekly devlogs of his progress.

Skipping last week’s April Fools entry, the last update included the video above and the first look at the game’s interface. While it’s tempting to think of the game as simply SimCity-done-right, it’s already starting to differentiate itself: in Citybound, you paint zones rather than dragging them out from a grid. That sounds like a recipe for more organic, less Americanized cities.

The same update also shows that there will be a mode to help those who are colour-blind continue to play the game. Kudos!

Updates seem to appear around every Tuesday, so subscribe to its newsletter and you should have a new changelogs, GIFs and videos delivered soon.

Dwarf Fortress

Thus far I’ve focused these columns on new games, or games I hadn’t previously heard of, but someone in the comments last week suggested Dwarf Fortress and how could I resist? The long in-development roguelike isn’t only one of the most complex and fascinating games, it also has one of the longest-running and most detailed development blogs.

The posts alternate between the short, such as a link to a list of newly added plants, and the long, such as stories of ToadyOne’s own experiences playing the game.

“Apparently this was the second army that was sent after the massacre to occupy the site (very non-elfy…) for the Parched Wasp, so they weren’t overtly hostile. I’m not sure when the initial invasion happened, since I didn’t listen to the rumors before I left from Whirllancers. It could have happened any time during the previous two weeks before my adventure. The elves told me that there had been a ‘dispute over the treatment of plants’”

Dwarf Fortress is an intimidating game to play, due to its obtuse interface and startling depth. I think it’s worth overcoming your fear. Grab the Lazy Newb Pack, clear a weekend in your schedule, and learn to play. The wards you will reap – in fun anecdotes, in a long relationship with the future of this decades-long development project – are more than worth climbing over that initial hump.

If you haven’t yet found the time or the confidence, the development log provides plenty of inspiration. “Site riling now includes little groups that try to track you down after the rumor has gotten around that you’ve done something bad,” begins one entry from the 19th of March. “I was robbed properly today. The miscreants approached me south of the well in front of several onlookers. Their leader made small talk as two others surrounded me. Once everybody was in place, the tone changed and they demanded that I yield, which I, being unskilled and alone, did promptly,” reads another from March 8th. The best posts are like this; a mixture of story and feature list.

Or you can read their monthly financial reports, where they openly discuss how much money they’re making in donations. So much good stuff!

From the archives

This is a week for posting some of the initial inspirations for this column, like Citybound and Dwarf Fortress and, yeah, Cliff Bleszinski. If you’ve seen him on Twitter, you might not be surprised to discover that the former Epic Games designer is an opinionated man. You might not know that he used to so openly share his opinions about Buffy The Vampire Slayer though.

SUBJECT: BUFFY AND 8 MILE

Buffy

Buffy is back. Two weeks ago I said to my co workers “Buffy is back with the comedy…but can they bring the tragedy?” This episode was very, very emotional and really got to me. Willow and the blonde punk chick “ghost” reminded me of the best scenes from Ghost… and the scenes with Dawn rivaled Poltergeist. The writers did a great job on this episode and I’m excited about this season.

I was THIS close to giving up on Buffy.

8 MILE

Good movie. There were times I felt that the supporting cast was told “act poorly, so Eminem looks good” but I won’t hold the movie to that too much. (Ahem “WHAT HAAAVE YEEEW EVER DUUUNE RAAABIT?”)

Anyways, am I the only one who thinks this movie is based on “Through the looking glass/Alice in Wonderland?”

Never give up on Buffy. (Except for the comics, which I gave up on.)

Are you making a game, writing a devlog, or following along with one you enjoy? As always, email me. My head still hurts.

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57 Comments »

Top comments

  1. Michael Anson says:

    Actually, the Lazy Newb Pack hasn’t been updated for some time. The new starter pack is PeridexisErrant’s Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack.

  1. Themadcow says:

    Much like Dexter, Buffy peaked at Series 4 and never reached the same heights.

    Um, yes.

  2. LionsPhil says:

    Oh cool, Xenoraptor’s got an RPS mention.

    Seen this while lurking AGDG threads, and it is looking seriously good. Dev seems a friendly sort too. Keep meaning to, y’know, try it.

  3. sinister agent says:

    Is Dwarf Fortress playable yet dot com

    • SuddenSight says:

      Hah. Everyone knows that is just a redirect to:
      http://www.hasthelhcdestroyedtheearth.com/

      • President Weasel says:

        Get the lazy newb pack and then it’s “just about wrestle-into-submission-able”. There’s something almost noble about a game that needs full community support (mods, youtube tutorials, wikis) to go from unplayable to merely nigh-unplayable. In all seriousness it is indeed worth clearing a few days and learning to play. I had a grand time with it, although I needed sippycups tutorials and the lazy newb pack to get anywhere near to grips with it.

        I’m assuming there still isn’t anything approaching a graphical UI? I saw an excellent comment once where someone said the developer was too busy working out individual moisture droplet modelling for the towel simulation to do one.

        • sinister agent says:

          I spent a while getting into it a few years back. It’s pointless, because he’ll just go and add a load of new stuff without ever fixing the existing stuff, and you’ll be pretty much back to square one again.

          • frightlever says:

            Sadly, this.

            He does what interests him and as he isn’t charging for it, there’s not much we can do about it.

            Most people don’t play adventure mode, but as I understand it that’s been his focus for about the past year, meanwhile getting a functioning, training military is a dark art.

            But once the next version releases, I’ll be carving out a week, never mind a weekend, to play it.

          • President Weasel says:

            Last time I played it there was a bug with crossbows and ammo that meant it was very hard to field trained bowdwarfs who didn’t just use their bows like improvised melee weapons – but on the other hand, it was possible to make a danger room where wooden spears poked out of the floor and taught your dwarfs to be elite blockers without killing them – and just about possible to keep the vast majority of cats and babies out of there, too. The sheer complexity of the game and the possibilities it opens up are amazing, but people do get a bit stockholm syndromey about the terrible UI and graphics.
            It’s very much one man’s quixotic project – but I’d say it’s something everyone with an interest in games should try – you don’t even have to pay for it, after all. Although as one poster above mentions, that may be part of the problem.

          • jrod says:

            Yeah… I agree. The sad part is that if he would open the game up to help from outsiders he would certainly have no shortage of talented developers willing to help squash bugs for free or very little compensation.

            And hooray for danger rooms! Elite military in no time flat!

        • Nate says:

          It seems really strange to me that people say playable/unplayable without ever acknowledging the whole “to whom” bit. Clearly, DF has been playable for many, many years to some people.

          But I don’t think it’s the best time for somebody new to start playing DF. Not because of interface, which will never be what so many people want it to be, but because a new version is probably weeks away. The new version will doubtlessly be plagued by bugs, maybe game-breaking ones, maybe save-breaking ones, but who can keep themselves from the new features?

          • frightlever says:

            “but because a new version is probably weeks away”

            We can dream, right?

    • almostDead says:

      I may be just another ignorant ass with an opinion, but in mine DF has had its day, its moment in the sun. I remember when it went through its super hipster period.

      Importantly, he inspired a bunch of people to go make functional versions of this kind of game, things like Rimworld and others where people can profit from graphics, a user interface and are willing to compromise some complexity that they never really would have appreciated in the first place.

      I hope the guy can continue his desired lifestyle (detailed in that times article) from the few thousand dollars a month he makes, but DF is clearly never going anywhere, as it just disappears inside itself.

      • teije says:

        Comment is spot-on. Following DF is like going through the looking-glass into someone’s parallel universe. More power to him to follow his own vision and does what he clearly wants to do, but he’s been very clear that he makes the game he wants, and that doesn’t include making it more accessible or user-friendly for others. One day someone will develop a sim with the depth of DF and a usable UI, and I’ll actually enjoy playing it. DF has always been too much damn effort.

        Although I do have more respect for someone who cares so little for usable UI, compared to a company that has crappy UI in their games and thinks it’s good. I’m looking at you, Paradox. (Spoken as a huge fan of their games).

        • Reapy says:

          The man has a 15 + year plan for development. UI is on that list eventually. Dwarf fortress is a way of life, not a game.

        • jrod says:

          Everyone complains about the UI, but after getting used to it I became extremely fast and efficient with it. Very clear to me that he, at least at some point, has used a text editor called VIM because many of the hot keys for DF match up with default VIM keybindings (which oddly enough is also a byzantine complex, but powerful beast… think the Dwarf Fortress of code editors)

          • Rizlar says:

            Funny, someone kept telling me about VIM and I said it reminded me of DF. Although I have never coded before, it seemed clear that ToadyOne’s computer science background informed how he made the UI. If there are specific similarities, perhaps I should start learning VIM, I’m pretty fluent in DF…

          • rossy says:

            Then why are hjkl not used for movement? ToadyOne probably uses a homemade editor with keybindings completely different to any other editor. Though DF seems a bit vimmy indeed.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I thought Toady was a mathematician, not a compsci.

            Also, DF’s UI is very little like Vim. Vim is consistent and logical. DF is a mess. The similarities are superficial.

          • Baines says:

            Rogue used vi’s cursor movement keys. The Roguelikes that followed tended to support Rogue/vi movement for a few reasons. For a while, vi was considered the power editor that any serious coder used, and of course serious coders coding on a Unix-based system. (vi earned some of that reputation by being efficient. While it lacked graphical frills, it was simply faster than fancier looking alternatives.) While number pads became a popular alternative for movement, many keyboards didn’t have number pads. Supporting h/j/k/l for movement also affected what keys other actions were bound to, which in turn helped set their standardization.

            As for where VIM fits in, VIM is based on vi. VIM offered more functionality than vi, but more important for its spread was that VIM was ported to multiple non-Unix OSs.

            vi isn’t actually that complex or byzantine. It lacks graphical frills, which in turn makes it non-obvious if you don’t read the manual/help, but it isn’t overly complicated.

          • Rizlar says:

            Ah yes, he was a mathematician, I actually did know that. He seems very into coding though, not sure if it was part of his academia.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Vi uses HJKL because those keys had arrows printed on on the terminal it was developed on. (Same for ~ meaning “home” on UNIX.) It’s endured because, as home row keys, they’re pretty quick and comfortable to use.

        • hamilcarp says:

          You don’t sound like someone who’s played DF. My guess is you watched a couple tutorials, maybe took a stab at fortress mode, and gave up 5 minutes later. Am I wrong? In order to appreciate any game you have to stick through it. The UI is terrible, but not impossible to understand with a little effort. It will take longer than 5 minutes to learn the game but once you do it is well worth it.

          • Talksintext says:

            I’ve spent at least 100 hours on that game. The UI is godawful. You can remember most important builds through hotkeys, but managing dwarves/military/etc is a nightmare, and in general the UI is clumsy, mouseless, and takes an inordinate amount of time to do more basic things like:
            1) choose things to trade
            2) choose things to dump
            3) just draw out construction plans (I can’t just click and drag a “wall brush”, I have to click a series of hotkeys, then more keys for the dimensions, then place it just for a single wall – with the former making a 4-walled room would take about 4sec; in DF it takes about a minute or two).

            Plus the UI in general just looks horrid and displays little/no information.

      • frightlever says:

        I expect you saw that Rimworld April Fool’s joke someone on Reddit cooked up.

        http://i.imgur.com/SZjndMr.png

        Made me smile.

        How is Rimworld? I have it book-marked to check out every so often. Should just bite the bullet.

        • almostDead says:

          Still not yet, in my opinion, which is based on asking a streamer and watching 3 different youtubers play it.

          It’s just too barebones right now.

          • The First Door says:

            I personally had lots and lots of fun with the first Kickstarter alpha. It is bare bones, but I found what was there actually played really well, mostly down to the AI director. There is certainly more content/gameplay than last time I looked at Spacebase and I found it hung together better than PA at the time (although the latest update of that has really helped).

            If you are okay that with building a happy little society (which is occasionally on fire), spending about 4-ish hours on it before hitting the tech limit, and then starting a new one you’ll have fun. If not, then I’d say wait.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      The game is playable and many people play it just fine. Do people expect to sit down and get the hang of it in a couple of hours? You have to take the time to learn the game, if you’re not willing to do that or won’t enjoy that well then it’s the wrong game for you.

      I think that it’s kind of like EVE, there’s plenty of people that like the sound of it the game, are enticed in by the concept of the game but are ultimately disappointed that they don’t like the game. Then say the game is unplayable unless the dev does A, B and C. The game you want is a different game. Just admit you do not like the game, saying it’s unplayable is false.

      • sinister agent says:

        The game is playable and many people play it just fine. Do people expect to sit down and get the hang of it in a couple of hours?

        No, people expect it to not be a needlessly obtuse and labyrinthine mess of horribly designed submenus covering an ever-expanding cavalcade of bugs that will never be fixed as long as there is room to cram some more bugs in.

        If you love DF, hey, great, I can totally see why some people do. But don’t make out it’s not a broken mess. That’s just ridiculous.

  4. Skeletor68 says:

    I’m actually watching Buffy with the gf on Netflix at the moment. She had never seen it the first time around.

    Forgot how in love I was with Willow as a young teenager, haha.

  5. darkath says:

    As a somewhat colorblind person, this video of citybound is a pure nightmare to watch, all those greenish colors are a strain :(

    So if there’s a colorblind mode with more vivid colors, that can only be a very welcome addition. But in my experience most of the “colourblind modes” in games replace the red color in the UI by some very vivid blue. Only borderlands 2 adress this properly and have different coulourblindness settings for different kind of colourblindness (mostly for color used to differentiate loot)

    • AndiK says:

      This game must look to you like the average Real(TM) Shooter to non-colourblind people: Crappy brown on dirt brown with streaks of ocre. :/

      My father’s colourblind (red/green), too. It’s always interesting to see what colours he can’t tell from each other and how he still manages to create perfectly colour balanced nature photographs.

      On top of that, he’s quite able to spot a brownish orchid in a wild green meadow from a distance of 100m. I wonder if colour blindness might even be of advantage in this case…

    • phuzz says:

      I can only just see the slightly darker area in the top right (unbounded by road). Fortunately I usually only notice my colour blindness when doing an Ishihara test.

    • darkath says:

      Yes colour blindness for most case is not so much of a disability. More like a minor annoyance. Most annoyances actually come from relatives pestering you with remarks such as “oh but you can’t see that” or “i wonder how does this look like to you”.
      In most cases I see everything just fine but in some rare case it can be really straining when you stumble upon just one of the colors you can’t see well.

      Also halftones or hatched lines like in the video can get really bad when it combines colors you can’t handle.

  6. Baines says:

    The Buffy comics allegedly got better, with the end of “Season 8″ including comments that they knew it went off the rails and into crap. Season 9 was apparently meant to restore what they messed up with 8, setting Season 10 to be back similar to the TV series.

    I wouldn’t know, as for me Buffy went to crap while it was still on TV.

  7. rhubarb says:

    Citybound looks good, but when was the last time any city builder lived up to its potential/hype? Or even got past the short-videos-of-system-ideas stage?

    • RedViv says:

      Tropico 4 was marketed as the best version of Tropico 3 and then some, and that is what it was. Cautiously excited of what T5 might bring, since it also includes the era of the second game and *then* goes through to modern days. But there is no hype that I am aware of, so maybe this one does not count.

  8. The Sombrero Kid says:

    If I’ve already emailed you about my DevLog do you want me to keep emailing you or would you rather I didn’t? I don’t want to contribute to an inbox avalanche If you’d rather I didn’t.

  9. meepmeep says:

    The main issue with Dwarf Fortress is not an issue with the game in itself, but rather the brevity of our existence.

    • RedViv says:

      But that is intrinsically linked to the game itself, for when it is ready, it will bring about the singularity event that ends humanity as we know it. It is only a question of when, not if.

  10. Michael Anson says:

    Actually, the Lazy Newb Pack hasn’t been updated for some time. The new starter pack is PeridexisErrant’s Dwarf Fortress Starter Pack.

    • jrod says:

      the last time I clicked a link to a dwarf fortress starter pack I lost months of time… i won’t… do it… again… must… resist!

    • geldonyetich says:

      Personally, I’m somewhat bemused that Dwarf Fortress itself hasn’t been updated for some time. In the current version heralds from June, 2012! That’s an awful long time to hear about these nifty new things going on in the dev blog. But I guess they’ll put out a new version one of these years…

      I guess that’s where mods come in. I’ve played a bit of Masterwork Dwarf Fortress, which does a lot to keep things fresh.

      • Rizlar says:

        Seems that he is currently at the bug-squashing stage for the next patch, so that will take as long as it takes then it will be out! Actually thought this article might signal it’s release… sadface :’(

        Quite a lot of deep stuff going on with this patch. For a fortress mode player like myself, being able to leave forts, explore them in story mode, go back and reclaim them to play in fort mode, reclaim other abandoned NPC sites etc is going to be great. Also new trees. And climbing.

      • L3TUC3 says:

        I was anticipating a release a while back. Toady’s enthusiasm shown through blogposts frequency typically heralds the coming of a new patch, but I’ve been fooled before.

  11. The First Door says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t quite like the painting approach of Citybound? It’s nothing wrong with the game, it’s just even in that video I was getting unhappy about his poor colouring in! I like my cities to be neat and I fear I’d obsess…

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