Cogmind Is Your Next Favourite Roguelike

That headline may be a bold claim but the only way I can imagine it being false is if you’re already playing Cogmind [official site]. It’s a sci-fi game in which you control robots that can repair and reconfigure themselves by picking up pieces of fallen enemies. It has a relatively friendly interface for such a complex game (you don’t need to learn a thousand key inputs) and even though it’s still in alpha, the latest build is extremely solid.

Cogmind doesn’t come for free and buying into the alpha will set you back $24.99. That gives you immediate access and you’ll get a Steam key when the game launches there later this year. I haven’t played it since late last year, possibly having been tipped off by our very own coverage, and even though I’m buried in a pile of exciting new games (with more to come), I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist the urge to check out all the shiny new stuff this evening.

Recent work has focused on user-friendliness, with some optional changes to inventory management at the heart of that. The latest release, alpha 11, contains all sorts of new goodies though, including new items, weapons, robots and map types. What is already an extremely rich game is getting richer by the month.

Cogmind is a wonderful thing, carefully and intelligently constructed, and with a gorgeous ASCII aesthetic. Developer Josh Ge has written about his use of ASCII on the website for his other major project, X@COM – an XCOM roguelike – and I’m going to quote him because it’s not often I read a good defense of ASCII (not that it needs to be defended, IN MY OPINION):

“ASCII tends to appear ‘simpler’ to the untrained eye, but looks are deceiving–while ASCII is certainly a more abstract representation of the environment, the higher visual density makes it possible to tightly pack a much greater amount of information into a given viewing area, as well as more clearly present that information (a classic ‘ASCII vs. pixel art’ argument). The abstract representation is intentional, and comes with numerous benefits which we’ll get to later. Moreover, as you’re starting to see with the Cogmind interface style and content (and even art!), ASCII does not have to be ‘simple.’

“ASCII isn’t just convenient, its abstract appearance is also capable of being more meaningful to the active player, in the same way that reading a book is more engaging than watching a movie. At a game mechanics level a given object/symbol represents whatever the developer says it is. An in-game description, or even just a name, provides all you need to know, while details beyond that are open to interpretation.

“The style is not for everyone, but there are still plenty of people out there who enjoy exercising their imaginations while playing games (hopefully this will still be a thing in another generation or two).”

I love Cogmind and I’d probably love X@COM as well.


  1. Harlander says:

    The development posts for this have been consistently fascinating. I played the 7DRL version and it was fun but it looks like it’s really blossomed into something special since then.

    • Kyzrati says:

      Thanks, it was the post-7DRL reception that eventually convinced me to turn Cogmind into a much grander game. It was going to be a 1-year project–“oh yeah I’ll just polish the 7DRL”–but, yeah the idea of making it even bigger and better quickly became too tempting xD

      Nearly 6,000 dev hours later… and the end is in sight! Always more that can be done, but there’s a clear vision for the game and there’s only a few more months left to fulfill that. Everything past that is (more) icing on the cake :) It’s been quite a journey (and I’m humbled that RPS has noticed)!

  2. Eery Petrol says:

    I’ve never played with an ASCII map and don’t get how it would be better than graphical tile sets. Abstraction, I get that, but you can have abstract tiles that do not alienate majorities. Abstraction is not something ASCII uniquely offers. Any other argument I can think of is being lightweight, but I don’t think a more nuanced graphical interface would pose any problem for most. Please could someone tell me what makes ASCII maps more than a legacy interface?

    • ButteringSundays says:

      It’s a graphical treatment, like any other you might encounter – one that clearly many people like.

      And who is this ‘majority’ that is alienated by it?

    • timzania says:

      I think the issue is that representational tiles (regardless of style) usually create a degree of sameness pressure. Suppose your game has both trolls and orcs; how different do they really look? At map-scale they both have two arms, two legs, head, torso… now you’ve used up a lot of your detail budget on things that aren’t important. Maybe they could be different colors?

      In a real-time game you can express a lot through different animations, but nobody wants to watch a bunch of animated loops in a turn-based game. If trolls are a T and orcs are an O they are easy to distinguish, and the focus moves to their behaviors/stats in terms of gameplay.

      You can use abstract designs which aren’t letters, too, but why invent a new set of pictograms? Besides, letters have a degree of mnemonic capacity (T is for Troll is easy to remember) and some traditional aspects (people see an @, they have some expectation it’s their character).

      • enobayram says:

        Great point! By using ASCII characters, you don’t only reuse the font set, you also reuse people’s recognition of it.

      • dahauns says:

        If trolls are a T and orcs are an O they are easy to distinguish, and the focus moves to their behaviors/stats in terms of gameplay.
        You can use abstract designs which aren’t letters, too, but why invent a new set of pictograms? Besides, letters have a degree of mnemonic capacity (T is for Troll is easy to remember) and some traditional aspects (people see an @, they have some expectation it’s their character).

        I completely agree about the limits of representational tilesets.
        BUT: IMO plain ASCII is far from the ideal solution, demands unnecessary cognitive load and is actually rather crude when it comes to mnemonic capacities.
        It’s great when you only have Orcs and trolls, but look at goblins vs gibbons vs geese or sheep vs serpent men in DF.
        You could use digraphs here for example. Or maybe a simple pattern somewhere in the glyph to show main statuses/categories, or at least a few of the most important ones.

        And I wouldn’t rule animations out, simple geometric ones laid over the glyph (say, a line moving across the glyph every other second in different directions. Or two.) could represent all sorts of stuff. (Of course, the visual clutter has to be considered as well).

        And so on. Abstract tilesets having distinct advantages doesn’t mean that the current standard solution is the best we can have. It’s just the solution we are used to.

    • wu wei says:

      The last I heard, Cogmind was going to provide both ASCII & tiled graphics.

      The dev wrote about ASCII v tiles and their relative merits, which might help you with your question.

      • Kyzrati says:

        This is correct, full tileset support has been in the game since the first release last year. They can be seen in images on the site and in most of the trailer (which starts in ASCII mode just for the atmosphere).

        According to the latest sampling, about three quarters of players use that mode (graph).

  3. Sin Vega says:

    Had my eye on this for a while, but can’t afford another steep pricetag for yet another unfinished game (and it’s rising rapidly via conversion. Thanks, half of England!). Does look interesting though. Cool name, too.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      I’m in the exact same boat. Have been watching this for what feels like years – but is rather pricey for those of us that just want to buy a game and not support a lifes-work :)

      I wonder if it will ever be finished…

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Depends on your definition of “finished”. If a game is finished when devs stop working on it, then many of the classic roguelikes STILL aren’t finished. A quick check tells me the most recent stable build of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, for example, is 0.18.1, and that’s like twenty years old. Sort of.

        But let me tell you, I played the free 7drl version to death (EDIT FOR CLARITY: I mean of Cogmind, of course), and that felt like a pretty solid finished game in and of itself. I followed the devlogs for this version rabidly for a long time and I can say pretty confidently that the damned thing will get a full release and I imagine that even the current build feels fantastic to play.

        I dearly wanted to buy into the alpha to support the project, honestly, but found I was just too poor to be able to justify it to myself, and since then I’ve been mostly avoiding the devlogs to keep my frustration at not playing it RIGHT NOW to a minimum. Glad to see it’s still coming along, it’ll likely be a day 1 buy for me if I don’t cave and grab it before then.

      • Premium User Badge

        buenaventura says:

        They write that it will be cheaper upon launch, and you can give your email to get 1 mail upon launch, so I did that. I read launch would happen round the end of 2016. It looks awesome.

  4. RedViv says:

    It’s only getting prettier too.

  5. zxc says:

    By the way, the game has tiles. ASCII is entirely optional (although I highly recommend it). I normally go for tiles in roguelikes but the ASCII is just perfect in Cogmind and very beautiful as well.

    The latest Alpha release is the biggest and most exciting update to date. It absolutely plays like a finished game, with a lot of polish and life.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I can go either way pretty easily – it’s usually been my tendency to use whichever the game in question defaults to, which often means tiles these days, but I’m quite used to ASCII as well. Cogmind though, I can’t imagine playing in tiles. Probably the first time ASCII has not simply helped my imagination, but rather been an active component of immersion. You are a robot, after all.

  6. Alvarop says:

    Both the developer and the game are amazing. This game has all the qualities of a roguelike classic but the accessibility – if you put at least an hour into understanding how the game works – of a modern one. I`m glad to see it’s getting the attention it deserves.

  7. Greggh says:

    “you don’t need to learn a thousand key inputs”

    cor blimey!

    • Czrly says:

      Can you just imagine how unbelievably incredibly enjoyable Dwarf Fortress would be with THESE mouse controls? (I’ve got nothing against keyboard keys for designations and wot-not but… oh my… this sort of mousing could turn DF into something so good it would be banned in the civilised world and the focus of a new Inquisition.)

      • Otterley says:

        The players would instantly become almost indistinguishable from wireheads.

  8. vahnn says:

    I haven’t touched this game in quite some time, but I did thoroughly love the dozen or so hours I spent with it before. Time to revisit!

  9. Wisq says:

    Saw the headline, and while it took a moment for the name to ring a bell, I literally exclaimed aloud “oh yay it’s out!” when I did.

    And then I get to “buying into the alpha” and I’m sad. :( But, at least there’s a rough release date now. :)

  10. hollowroom says:

    Ooh this looks good. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before now.

  11. Bobtree says:

    A screenshot does not do Cogmind justice. It looks extremely slick in motion. I’m excited for the upcoming release.

    • Caradog says:

      This is so true… I nearly dismissed it until I looked at the videos on the website. Simply incredible!