Intrigued by Alec’s review, John got hold of Dungeons Of Dredmor too, and found himself finally clicking with a roguelike. Alec and John sat down at either end of the RPS banquet table to discuss the game, and their experiences while playing it.
Alec: Dungeons of Dredmor: a roguelike with big eyebrows and a vengeful spirit. How much time have you sunk into it?
John: I’ve played it for a good three evenings. But I have a question before we get going. I’ve not played any roguelikes before, because I’m scum. How typical is it?
Alec: It’s on the gentler end. Traditionally, they’re far less forgiving in both difficulty and controls, so Dredmor is a fairly concerted effort to be mainstream, at least within indie confines.
John: The controls being more forgiving – is that an indication that other roguelikes are poorly made?
Alec: Not as such – there’s just a lot that have tended towards complexity rather than accessibility.
Alec: It’s the Dwarf Fortress argument, really. The interest is in getting the mechanics right rather than the controls familiar.
John: Which I think is why I’ve always been put off.
Alec: Yeah, totally, me too – I’m a mere dabbler. I know something like this or 100 Rogues is a diluted experience, but that’s a trade I’m personally prepared to make for something I can drop right into then slowly master. So, was it a familiar experience for you at all?
John: Yes and no. Playing it feels like playing a dungeon crawler, of which I’ve played very many. But the whole death thing – that’s a real shock. It’s a lot to get used to, and I still can’t stop myself from investing. So every death, especially when I’m not expecting it, is horrendous.
Alec: Oh, you’re not supposed to not invest.
John: And yet I can’t help it.
Alec: It is supposed to be hideously painful. Each character is supposed to be The One. So when you fail, you haven’t just messed up. You’ve killed someone. You’ve truly failed.
John: It changes my attitude to how a game kills me, too. Accidentally treading on a disproportionately powerful trap and losing everything feels really rubbish. Finding myself backed into a corner by literally dozens of enemies and pathetically trying to battle my way out, feels magnificent.
Alec: One thing is that you learn a lot of things to do and not do. So, over time, you will recognise certain types of traps and how disproportionately powerful they are on sight. You will know not to enter rooms in such a way as you can be surrounded. But sooner or later, you’ll forget or get complacent, and break one of the core survival rules.
John: But I’m such a stupid completionist that I want to go into every single room. I think I have a lot of habits to shake.
Alec: That’s a good thing to do in this particular roguelike, because there isn’t a need to eat (and therefore risk of starving). The earlier you descend to another level, the less equipped you’ll be for it. So being a completionist does pay. The downside being that the longer you spend with a character, the more you have to lose.
John: How many floors down have you been?
Alec: 5 or 6, can’t quite remember. I’m a terrible one for sudden acts of complacency.
John: I’ve literally only looked at the third floor. But found myself perfectly content repeating the first two over and over, trying to clear every room. I appear to have rediscovered my childhood ability to only play the first two screens of something like Chuckie Egg 2, and be okay with that.
Alec: Yeah, I’m never really thinking about my progress through the dungeon. I’m just thinking about levelling up my character, smithing new weapons, buying specific thing x… Which, I think, is at least partly the point. It’s a survival saga more than it is a victory saga.
John: Yeah, that makes sense. What sort of starting character do you tend to pick? Or do you vary?
Alec: Variations upon a theme, but I tend towards blacksmithing, evasion, mathemagic and then assorted weapon/armour etc specialisms. Oh, and the one where you generate mana with each kill. What about you?
John: I have avoided magic and crafting, and gone for weapons abilities. Plus always, always vampirism. I’m not sure how it’s possible to play without it.
Alec: I tried that for a while, but ended up in too many situations where there was nothing I could safely fight to get health, and of course I couldn’t use potions. You should try the magic. There’s healing spells down the fleshsmithing tree.
John: Ooh, interesting.
Alec: And mathemagic has a random teleporation spell which is a neat way of getting out of trouble. Or into it.
John: I’m really impressed by how much the levels vary each time. It surprises me by how different it can be to play. There was a spectacular moment when I opened a door and revealed a chamber that had perhaps a hundred monsters in it. I knew there was no hope. But it was fun trying.
Alec: Ah, the monster zoos. Surviving one of those is a hell of a feeling. There’s a rare crossbow ammo type with a mininuke strapped to it. That’s what you need for those. Also, the rogue skills eventually allow you to pick up traps, which are incredibly useful in that kind of event.
John: I do get a bit cross with how buggy closing doors is though. “NO DON’T MOVE! WHY ARE YOU MOVING?!”
Alec: Yeah, the camera angle strikes me as not quite right. There’s always that one row of tiles you can’t quite see.
John: Yes, very odd. I think what’s most important is that discussing it now makes me very much want to play another game of it.
Alec: Yeah, me too. I had to stop playing it because it was stopping me from playing everything else, but whenever I think or talk about it there’s always that sense that I should go back. ‘This time, I’ll get it right. I’ve got this idea for a build’ or ‘right, I understand that trying to disarm acid traps isn’t worth the risk.’ It’s just forgiving enough, I think. Upon death, while you’re probably furious, you never really feel hopeless or that the experience wasn’t worth it – or indeed that it doesn’t bear repeating.
John: Shall we stop talking and just go play it?
Alec: That’s a very good idea. But should the people buy it?
John: I think everyone should definitely buy it.
Alec: Me too! Except the people who don’t think it’s hardcore enough, of course. But they’ve probably already bought it and completed it in ten minutes anyway.
John: Those people are losernerds.