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TOME Is Where The Heart Is: Happy New Roguelike

In 2013, I resolve to convince as many people as possible to play Roguelikes and I’ll be particularly targeting those people who have never delved into the devious dungeons of ‘@’ before. It’s OK to admit that you’ve avoided them in the past because they look intimidating/crappy. TOME could be the gateway game you’ve been waiting for. It’s a variant of one of the core roguelikes but when it reached version 1.0 recently something miraculous happened. Firstly, it actually reached 1.0, which is on a par with the parting of an ocean given how many of these wonder-works are fated to grow forever, passing from designer to designer. But more amazing still, TOME has neat graphics and a friendly interface. Download it immediately.

If you didn’t download TOME immediately then please do so now, unless you’re at work, in which case it’s acceptable to wait until your lunch break. Take your lunch break immediately.

For a veteran dungeon diver such as myself, cynicism may creep in. Sure, it looks good, but when was that ever the point? And, hey, there’s an optional mouse-driven interface but doesn’t that mean the whole thing must be so dumbed down that it might as well be a third-person shooter? I haven’t played enough to figure out precisely where TOME fits in my personal Roguelike charts, but I am impressed by how much variety it offers and the simple fact that I can almost definitely convince lots of people to try it. So far, like the best fantasy RPGs, I feel like it offers new worlds full of mystery and danger, and those are two of my favourite things.

I chose to be some sort of magical elf on my first attempt and found myself in a land of living crystals. When I died, after about five minutes, I started again as a human with a sword and a shield. Magic had failed me but cold steel wouldn’t. That character began his quest in a trollmire, which looked like a forest except instead of squirrels and butterflies it was full of writhing masses of worms and, would you believe it, various types of troll. Although there’s plenty of randomness, there are actual quests other than ‘go down’, and different races and classes have different objectives and areas to explore. Try them all! Except the ones you have to unlock. Work out how to unlock those instead by trying the others.

TOME isn’t horribly confusing and it even has a tutorial but if you do feel a twinge of anxiety when it confronts you with its many possibilities and options, breathe, relax and experiment. The only wrong choice is ‘quit’. Perhaps you’ve dabbled before. You can admit that here. Nobody will judge you, least of all an actual judge with a wig and a gavel. Maybe somebody was passing a paper full of Dredmor around behind the bike sheds one day and you took a drag on it and thought, hey this isn’t so bad, I expected ASCII after-phlegm and an interface that punched me in the lung but the whole experience is far smoother and more pleasant than I’d ever have imagined. TOME is more traditional than Dredmor but is just as easy to use and to understand. It’s also free, though lacking in humour and gargantuan eyebrows.

To add icing to the already delicious cake, the T-Engine4 on which TOME is built is ready for more modules right now. It’s begging for them, whether they’re totally new worlds, additional quests and scenarios, or something in between. It’s a general purpose Roguelike engine and could spark a revolution, providing a simple means of creating and collating turn-based adventures. I’m already tempted to hibernate for much of 2013 just so I can see how many people embrace this and what they produce.

I’ll probably write more soon, when I’ve spent more time with TOME itself, but I couldn’t resist making this my first news post of the year. It’s such a thrilling and potential-packed way to start what dunderheaded analysts are already failing to call ‘The Year of the Roguelike’, and it could mark the opening of a fantastic floodgate.

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Adam Smith

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